Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone

Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone

Since the earliest days of Hollywood, notable figures and incidents of the old west have been captured in the cinema. No list would be complete without the story of renowned law man Wyatt Earp and the events surrounding the fabled gun fight at the OK Corral and the vendetta ride that followed. 

These events were the topic portrayed in the 1993 movie Tombstone. In this article, we take a closer look at the character Johnny Ringo, who featured in the movie, together with Michael Biehn, the actor who played the role.

Johnny Ringo in Real Life

Johnny Ringo was a notorious Western criminal who in real life died on July 14, 1882 in Tombstone, Arizona, United States. He was a loner who was known for his lightning-fast draw.

Ringo’s birthplace, among other facts, are shrouded in mystery. In 1875, he made his first appearance in Mason County, Texas, when he was arrested for a double murder and accused of cattle rustling. While incarcerated, he managed to get out, only to be recaptured and then freed. Having having earned a reputation as a murderer, he made his next public appearance in 1879 at Galeyville, New Mexico. 

He was at Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 and was presumably part of the group that was hostile to Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday’s group. After a long night of drinking and despair, his body was found on July 14, 1882 in Tombstone, Arizona. Some say he was killed by a drinking buddy named Frank Leslie; others say it was Wyatt Earp.

Johnny Ringo in Tombstone

Tombstone actor Micheal Biehn discusses how to play a bad guy behind the scenes.

Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone

Johnny Ringo initially serves as The Cowboys’ second-in-command in the film Tombstone. As a violent psychopath, his goal is to bring shame and ruin on Doc Holliday. He is also shown to have a high level of education; he and Holliday engage in a Latin insult war.

Ringo has “a huge enormous hole in the center of him and he can never murder enough, or steal enough, or cause enough misery to ever fill it,” as Holliday puts it. He continues by saying Ringo is seeking vengeance “for being born.”

When Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil are starting to make money from their investment in a saloon and gaming hall, they run across a gang of criminals known as the Cowboys. The Cowboys, under the direction of “Curly Bill” Brocius, are easily recognizable by the bright red sashes they wear. Wyatt’s statement that he is retired and no longer interested in a career upholding the law prevents a potential conflict. It’s also the first time Holliday and Johnny Ringo have met in person, and they don’t exactly get along.

Virgil, unable to stand such lawlessness, takes over as marshal and implements a gun prohibition. It is because of this that the famous shootout which took place at the O.K. Corral occurs, in which Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury are murdered, Virgil and Morgan are injured, and county sheriff Johnny Behan’s loyalty to the Cowboys is made known. Wyatt’s brothers, named Morgan and Virgil, are attacked as punishment for the murders of the Cowboys. Morgan is murdered, while Virgil is severely injured.

After Curly Bill is slain by Wyatt Earp in an act of revenge, Johnny becomes the de facto leader of The Cowboys. With McMaster’s body in tow, Ringo sends a courier to the ranch to inform Wyatt that he wants a confrontation to end the hostilities, and Wyatt agrees. Doc feels certain that he could handle Ringo in a shootout, but he is currently in no shape to do so. 

Wyatt heads out for the confrontation, but little does he realize that Doc has already arrived. Ringo is caught off guard when Doc announces they are completing the current task “to play for blood.” Ringo’s nervousness causes him to fumble with his draw, and Doc takes advantage of the situation. Doc fires the first shot, hitting and killing Ringo when Ringo’s nerves slow his draw.

Michael Biehn

Born to lawyer father Don Biehn and Marcia (Connell) Biehn on July 31, 1956, Michael Connell Biehn grew up in Anniston, Alabama. He was born in Lincoln, in Nebraska, and relocated to Lake Havasu, Arizona, with his family when he was 14 years old. There, he earned a theater scholarship for the University of Arizona. Prematurely, he departed two years later to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. His breakout appearance came in 1981’s The Fan, when he played a deranged fan obsessed with Lauren Bacall. He also starred in The Lords of Discipline (1983). He became famous after being chosen to play Kyle Reese in James Cameron’s The Terminator, in which the character is sent back through time to stop Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator (1984). There are three aspects which are typical in his works:

  1. He often portrays members of the armed forces or police enforcement
  2. he frequently collaborates with James Cameron
  3. He displays a high frequency of characters that die before the film’s conclusion

He played a Navy SEAL in three different films: 1989’s The Abyss, 1990’s Navy Seals, and The Rock (1996).

Tombstone (1993) saw him get gun training from Hollywood legend Thell Reed, who has previously worked with the likes of Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliot, Girard Swan, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Related Questions

Doc Holliday’s remark to Johnny Ringo, “I’m your Huckleberry,” confused many. What does this imply, exactly?

Well, it suggests you’re eager to help others. To put it another way, you’re committed to the game or the endeavor at hand. Doc Holliday understood this to indicate that he was prepared to settle the score with Johnny Ringo.

Was there a real-life Johnny Ringo?

Outlaw Johnny Ringo, or John Peters Ringo, lived in the Arizona Territory’s frontier boom town of Tombstone from May 3, in 1850, until his death on July 13, 1882. His first murder occurred in Texas during the event called Mason County War.

How true to life was the movie Tombstone?

Tombstone is historically credible. The historical records confirm some of the more unbelievable events, as when bill Brosius misses Wyatt three times at point blank range before Earp chops him in half with a shotgun.

Final Thoughts

Tombstone is one of the few movies I’ve seen that managed to be both profoundly moving and very well-made. The action scenes are excellent, and the acting is superb, especially from Val Kilmer, whose performance as Doc Holliday is among the finest I’ve ever seen in a supporting character.

Tombstone, which premiered in theaters that year, was later deemed “one of the 5 finest Westerns ever filmed” by True West. KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, California, also hailed the picture as “One of the year’s 10 greatest!”

1 thought on “Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone”

  1. I totally agree, Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone” is a masterpiece…and all the actors supporting the movie, the producers, the directors, all created a masterpiece that will live on in the annals of one of the greatest Western movies ever produced!!!

    A legacy that will inspire law and order, people of honor and courage…frankly, not so prevalent in our 2023 society!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *