If Michael Gray had any doubts that he’d achieved official teen-idol status in 1972, they were erased at a Donny Osmond concert. “As I got to my seat, up came the kids, pulling my hair, tearing my clothes,” recalls Gray. “My manager had to save me by throwing me in a broom closet for an hour.”
No, Gray wasn’t a Monkee or a Jackson or an Osmond, but the mop of hair and the pouty lips that were his trademarks on CBS’s mid-’70s Shazam! series had him vying with those bubblegum icons for the covers of fan magazines like Tiger Beat and Teen. These days the hair and the lips are a bit thinner, but Gray, 53, still draws glances at Casabella, the Beverly Hills flower shop he owns with wife Stacy. “A lot of people will come in and say [to him], ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ ” says Stacy, 39. “Personally, I don’t think he’s changed all that much—just no teen-idol shag.”
And no illusions now that he’s on the other side of celebrity, catering to the likes of grunge queen Courtney Love, producer Garry Marshall and rocker Ozzy Osbourne. (“I would never think of throwing a party without having his imaginative arrangements around the house,” says Osbourne’s wife, Sharon.) Twenty-seven years ago, Gray reveled in his own star power as Billy Batson, the teen righter of wrongs who morphed into Captain Marvel with a cry of “Shazam!” But when the show ended in 1977, so did his career. “I don’t feel bitter,” says Gray, “but I was typecast. Period. Not an easy thing in Hollywood.”
He’d set his sights on Hollywood as a teenager in Miami Beach, where he lived with his parents—Eunice, now 74, a romance novelist, and Philip, an artificial-flower manufacturer who died in 1990 at 77—and his older sister Nancy, who died of cancer in 1978 at 38. After graduating from high school in 1965, he went to Los Angeles to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in 1968 was cast in the pilot for Room 222. ABC replaced him when it picked up the series, but small parts in shows including The Flying Nun and The Brady Bunch led to a role on NBC’s The Little People in 1972. Though Gray was let go after one season, when the show was revamped his photos started popping up in the teen mags. “Mind you, at first they were literally the size of postage stamps,” he says. “But the kids started writing in, ‘Who is this Michael Gray?’ ”
Shazam! producers knew, and cast him in 1974. “The show had a moral to it,” Gray says. “It amazes me how much kids were affected by it, and it still touches my heart.” When the series was canceled, he was devastated. The years that followed were “bleak and black,” he says. Amid rumors that he had a drinking problem, work dried up. But what looked like drunken staggering and shaking were actually caused by a prescription-drug reaction. To help him cope with Shazaml’s schedule, Gray’s doctors had prescribed Dexamyl, which contains a stimulant, to boost energy, as well as Placidyl, a sleep aid. When the show finished, Gray quit Placidyl cold turkey, and that’s when the erratic behavior set in. In 1983 he moved in with his parents in Carmel, Calif, (where they had relocated in 1972), undergoing detox at an area hospital. He also worked with a local musical theater group for several years—until, he says, he “felt ready for another invasion” of showbiz.
Back in L.A. in 1987, he auditioned while working odd jobs, but with no luck. Then he went on a blind date with Stacy Benon. They married in 1994, and he bought her parents’ West Hollywood flower shop to support his new family, including Stacy’s two children from her first marriage. Business boomed, and in 1999 they moved the shop to Beverly Hills, where Gray shares a three-bedroom home with Stacy, stepchildren Ryan, 16, and Laurel, 13, and Beau and Tai, the family’s two Pomeranians. He enjoys his new role as florist to the stars—”Putting your artistic feelings into flowers is just a different kind of gig,” he explains—but yes, acting is still his first love. “If I could say ‘Shazam!’ and make it happen,” he says, “I’d do it in a minute.”
Janet Kinosian in Beverly Hills