We now mostly know him as the big, beefy guy in suit and red tie, large head topped with orange wig, who periodically turns up at "Saturday Night Live" to get a few laughs, and then promptly disappears, only to vow that he will never debase himself this way again.
But did you also know that Massapequa-raised Alec Baldwin — who begins a new career chapter as host of "The Alec Baldwin Show" (premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. on ABC/7) — was a TV actor once?
Of course you did. He's tried to forget a few of those shows (understandable), but thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can offer for your enjoyment and edification the eight definitive TV roles that made Alec Baldwin Who He Is. (Or Sort of Who He Is: Let's not forget the many movies or stage roles; another day, more lists.)
And so, in chronological order, take it away!
"The Doctors" (1982) Baldwin landed on this soap in the final year of its existence, and good thing for him; if he'd landed a job on the competing medical soap, "General Hospital," he might still be there. With hair swept back and that 'ol Baldwin charm intact even at this early point, he played a Lothario named Billy. Lotharios would one day become a Baldwin specialty. For a short time, doctors, too.
"Cutter to Houston" (1983) Through the haze of years, this CBS hospital melodrama has not aged well — in fact, it almost certainly looked pretty bad at launch, too — while the ruggedly handsome actor by way of Massapequa playing one Dr. Hal Wexler did not appear destined for greatness, or much of anything-ness. Not to blame him. Lines like this tend to take their toll: "Well, the good news is that your special brand of blood is going to be coming from Houston!" The good news for Baldwin, the only good news, is that this was in prime time, and got him noticed.
"Knots Landing" (1984-85) On this classy soap (and "Dallas" spinoff) he played a psycho preacher named Joshua Rush, prone to violence and middle-distance stares which portended either a tantrum or homicidal rage. Joshua was the abandoned son of Lilimae Clements — played by the great Julie Harris — and working alongside Harris, Baldwin had no choice but to bring his "A" game, or whatever game he could muster by this point. In fact, he was good, and "Knots" therefore was the break — the big one — that would shortly lead to a string of hits ("Beetlejuice," "Married to the Mob" and "Working Girl" in '88 alone and then "The Hunt for Red October,' in '90). But first ...
"Dress Grey" (1986) This NBC miniseries based on the Lucian K. Truscott IV bestseller, adapted by Gore Vidal, was the big break No. 2. In this prestige project with an all-star cast (Hal Holbrook, Lloyd Bridges, Eddie Albert, Lane Smith), Baldwin played "Ry" Slaight, a military cadet suspected of the murder of a fellow cadet. Packed with homoeroticism and plentiful shots of Baldwin's hirsute, bare chest — that chest another early-career specialty, by the way — the mini got good reviews, and so did Baldwin.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1995) Either Jack Ryan walked away from Baldwin over this '92 revival at the Ethel Barrymore — turned into a CBS special in 1995 — or Baldwin walked away from Ryan. (Harrison Ford was tapped for the iconic Clancy role.) But Baldwin later said he couldn't do both, and chose Tennessee Williams instead. His Stanley Kowalski got a Tony nod, and good reviews for this TV adaptation that starred Jessica Lange as Blanche Dubois. Other than hosting "SNL," Baldwin appeared to walk away from TV after this, at least for a while.
"Schweddy" on "Saturday Night Live" (1998) Whatever its merits — and Rolling Stone in 2014 would rank "Schweddy Balls" as the 20th-best "SNL" sketch in history — this character who so lovingly describes a holiday treat during this sendup of an NPR cooking show ("Delicious Dishes") would officially establish Baldwin's comic chops. No longer just Kowalski, or Jack Ryan, he was actually funny. Of course, this and Baldwin's POTUS are just two in a long line of Baldwin "SNL" cutups dating back to 1990, when he first appeared. "SNL" defined Baldwin as much as any show, movie or play in his career. Except one.
"Friends" (2002) Baldwin's cameo as Parker, the incurably optimistic boyfriend of Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe (Monica: "He called the Long Island Expressway 'a concrete miracle!' ") lasted but two episodes — including the first, titled "The One From Massapequa" — but his timing was perfect. "Friends" was at the height of its ratings power, and in just four little years, he would land the role that .. .well, read on.
"30 Rock" (2006-13) Baldwin's Jack Donaghy was the perfect role at the perfect time on the perfect show — perfect for his skills, and especially for his talent for self-caricature. Making fun, for example, of that voice, that smooth Baldwin voice, or that physical presence which so fully inhabited the suits that were bespoke for General Electric's Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming . . . Baldwin found comedy greatness in Jack (two Primetime Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards) while this has become the one role that stands above all the rest. A long (long) way from "Cutter to Houston."
Donald Trump on "SNL" (2016- ) We end with you-know-who. His Trump squints. He looks like he's sucking on lemons. He says dopey things. Mostly though, he looks like Alec Baldwin trying to impersonate Donald Trump. This won't go down as a great Baldwin role, nor even a particularly good one. But it is memorable, and iconic in its own way because this is "SNL," after all, which is (after all) supposed to find memorable, iconic ways of making fun of the commander in chief. And often has — Phil Hartman (Reagan), Dana Carvey (George H.W. Bush), Darrell Hammond (Clinton), Will Ferrell (George W. Bush). Baldwin may lament his Trump sendup, but it's not going anywhere.