Bionic Bigfoot: His Legend and Legacy

The Six Million Dollar Man (SMDM), which ran from 1973 to 1978 on ABC, includes episodes that have defined forever my vision of Sasquatch or, as he’s known colloquially to the show’s fans, Bionic Bigfoot. “The Secret of Bigfoot” first aired February 1, 1976, a two-parter that scored huge ratings, enough to inspire the following season’s opener, “The Return of Bigfoot,” a crossover with The Bionic Woman. Then finally came “Bigfoot V,” a single episode appearing early in the fifth and final season.  Andre the Giant played Sasquatch first, and later Ted Cassidy donned the fur suit and wig. Viewers across the nation loved Bionic Bigfoot, and his episodes became annual events over SMDM’s last three seasons.  He and his alien creators evolved into essential elements within the show’s mythos.  No one from my generation will ever forget Andre or Ted in costume bursting out of the woods, knocking down trees, and bellowing territorial warnings at Colonel Austin who at first just stood there with the most classic what-the-hell look on his face.  These were magical moments for 11-year-old me.  They remain magical, even if upon re-watching them at 55 I perceive flaws.

Elements of the Bionic Bigfoot sub-series stem from cultural trends related to cryptozoology and alien visitations.  Cryptozoologists study cryptids, creatures from myth and legend, mostly trying to verify their existence in the real world.  Interest sparked after the Dinsdale film (1960) which reportedly offers evidence for the Loch Ness Monster, and the Patterson-Gimlin film (1967), doing the same for Sasquatch, spread publicly.  Add to this our longstanding fascination with aliens, not just growing from science fiction but from various UFO sightings and books such as Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? (1968) that tout hypotheses about aliens who traveled here and gave ancient civilizations technologies while being mistaken for gods. Other books — Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers (1969) by Jacques Vallée, for example – list hundreds of UFO sightings over a century, spawning yet another field, ufology.  These fringe explorations inspired television shows, among them The Man from Atlantis, In Search of . . ., Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Unsolved Mysteries, and the Bionic Bigfoot subset within SMDM. The paranormal was big, and networks knew how to exploit it.

ABC did especially well with Bionic Bigfoot, a “nyosynthetic” construct developed by alien colonists living in a hidden mountain outpost.  Nyosynthetics are advanced cybernetics powered with anti-matter energy rather than the nuclear cells behind Austin’s bionics, but that’s not the only wonder this culture possesses. They even travel rapidly over great distances thanks to devices that affect time flow, although they still tap into a volcanic vent to keep their base running. Geologists studying a nearby earthquake fault come too close to discovering them, running afoul of Bigfoot.  Cue our hero, an imminent earthquake threatening the California coastline, and the nuclear device used to stop it.  Romance enters the story when Austin and Bigfoot’s main creator, Shalon played by Stephanie Powers, exchange curious glances, but no.  Austin undergoes a procedure to wipe these happenings from his memory. 

“The Secret of Bigfoot” earned superlunar ratings.  The formula worked. We have cryptozoology.  We have advanced aliens identical to us sporting nifty pastel jumpsuits with gold metallic ascots and seemingly divine science.  Viewers loved it, and ABC was more than happy to restore Steve Austin’s memory the following season for “The Return of Bigfoot,” Ted Cassidy now taking over from Andre the Giant as Sasquatch and Jaime Sommers the Bionic Woman joining the storyline.  What’s more, TV legend Sandy Duncan co-stars with John Saxon and Severn Darden.  Young Chuck didn’t appreciate this mind-blowing casting.  Adult Chuck appreciates its absurd beauty.

The next installment, “Bigfoot V,” ends things, however.  The aliens have departed, leaving Sasquatch behind.  Thanks to that godlike tech, he’s slowly becoming organic thanks to help him better adapt to his new life.  This really unbelievable transfer from synthetics to organics gets interrupted, and the pain drives Sasquatch into a rampage.  Steve Austin then must restart the process to save his friend’s life.  We’re left to believe that once fully flesh and blood, the no longer bionic Bigfoot will dash into the woods, happily ever after. This being the capstone season of SMDM, Steve Austin assuredly will run into the loving arms of nostalgia himself.

When Kenner released their twelve-inch SMDM action figures, they included Bionic Bigfoot along with two other villains, the Fembot and Dr. Dolenz’s Mr. X.  In fact, there’s two action figures for Sasquatch, a furry Andre the Giant version and one representing Ted Cassidy, complete with removable chest plate to reveal his nyosynthetics.  Now if that doesn’t cement Bionic Bigfoot’s immortality, I’m not sure what will.

Kevin Smith understands what I mean about immortality.  For years, Richard Anderson, the actor who portrayed Oscar Goldman on SMDM and The Bionic Woman, lobbied to move anyone from Hollywood toward producing a Steve Austin movie.  Kevin Smith actually wrote a script, but nothing happened . . . until 2011 when Dynamite Comics transformed that script into a comic series, The Bionic Man, with writer Phil Hester and artist Jonathan Lau, who’d worked with Smith on Dynamite’s The Green Hornet, undertaking the project.  The first issue appeared in August 2011, and the series ran for 26.  Others had adapted this series to comics before Smith, but he and Hester were the first to update concepts radically.  After ten issues, those based on his script, Smith backed off.  The second arc beginning with the next issue introduces a modernized, you guessed it, Sasquatch.

Still bionic but not nyosynthetic, Sasquatch now belonged to a Terran species a Russian scientist captures and transforms into cyborg soldiers who would serve his ends.  Now we have not just one Bionic Bigfoot, but many, with no aliens and with very earthly roots.  Hester’s story works well, and his rebooting solves many of the continuity and plot issues of the original television episodes by simply doing away with the troublesome material.  Not even Andy Sheffield, the Bionic Boy, would receive as much love as Sasquatch over time.  Sheffield only has limited bionics in his legs, of course, and he’s far less pretty than Sasquatch.  But this comic series clinches it.  Where walks Steve Austin so too will walk Bionic Bigfoot.  Long live the legacy of Sasquatch.