The '80s TV star explained to ET how he coined awards season's iconic acronym for winning Emmy, GRAMMY, Oscar and Tony awards.
EGOT, often referred to as the “grand slam” of entertainment awards, originated from the dream of a Miami Vice star nearly 40 years ago.
Coined by actor Philip Michael Thomas, best known for playing Ricardo Tubbs on the ‘80s TV phenomenon, the acronym stands for Emmy, GRAMMY, Oscar and Tony awards. Whoopi Goldberg, John Legend, Rita Moreno and Mel Brooks are just a handful of talents who’ve picked up all four illustrious honors. In June, Jennifer Hudson became the 17th person to join the EGOT club.
To kick off awards season, ET is breaking down the timeline from EGOT's unexpected origin story to its present-day status as entertainment's most coveted titles.
THE THOUSAND-MILE JOURNEY
One month after Miami Vice hit the airwaves, Thomas was already making plans for his burgeoning career. As he saw it, combining four of entertainment’s biggest awards into one easy to remember acronym was an empirical way to measure success in Hollywood.
“[In January], I put a plan in motion, which I call 'EGOT,” he explained to ET on the Florida set in October 1984. “And EGOT is ‘E’ for Emmy, ‘G’ for GRAMMY, ‘O’ for Oscar and ‘T’ for Tony. And I'm putting this on a five-year plan. I hope to win all of those in the next five years.”
It was also reported at the time that Thomas even fashioned a gold pendant emblazoned with E-G-O-T (more on that later).
The following spring, Thomas had moved the EGOT goalpost to include award considerations. “I'd like to be nominated or win all [four] of those in the next five years, which seems like a big thing to do,” Thomas told ET in 1985. “We've already been nominated for an Emmy for Miami Vice, the pilot, so that's the ‘E.’”
In addition to these adjusted parameters, Thomas laid out a clear plan of action for attaining the three remaining trophies. His first studio album, Living the Book of My Life, was getting released in May and he hoped the record would add the “G” to his trophy case. As for the rest…
“The Oscar will come when I buy the rights to No Place To Be Somebody and do it as a film,” Thomas said. “And the Tony will come when I produce the musical I wrote, which is called The Legend of Stagolee.”
Written by Charles Gordone, No Place To Be Somebody won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1970. A movie adaption never came to fruition. Meanwhile, Thomas’ musical about criminal folk icon Lee Shelton, popularly referred to as “Stagger Lee” or -- in the case of Thomas’ title -- “Stagolee,” met the same fate. His debut record didn’t garner any GRAMMY nominations, either.
While today it's popularly referred to as "the power of positive thinking," Thomas, at the time, was taking a literal page of Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. “You have to set your goals high, because Carnegie said… If you can conceive an idea, believe it, and act upon it, you can achieve it,” he expressed. “I find that step by step that is exactly what I'm doing. Once again, I'm programming myself. I'm at the end result. I already see myself receiving those awards.”
Thomas noted, “It's not the award that is important. It's what happens to me internally as a being on this earth.”
Later, perhaps feeling the stakes had been raised with the public's fascination with his own fascination with EGOT, Thomas displayed a shift in tone. It was still about nabbing the trophies, but on another plane, he wanted fans to know “EGOT” was also meant to be a two-tier state of mind. “EGOT [is] on the microcosmic level: energy, growth, opportunity, and talent,” Thomas elaborated to ET in August 1985. “And on the macrocosmic level is: Emmy, GRAMMY, Oscar, and Tony.”
The next year, Thomas received a nomination. While the award began with a “G,” it was not for a GRAMMY, but rather a Golden Globe nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series Drama (he ended up losing to co-star Don Johnson).
While there’s no academic-style diplomas, with fame and talent being as subjective as they are, Thomas likened EGOT to the entertainment industry’s adoptive equivalent in the absence of more official credentials. “It's a small way of affirming what is necessary to achieve a goal,” Thomas told ET in 1986. “When you're going to study to be a doctor, you want a doctor's degree. You gonna study to be a lawyer, you want a lawyer's degree.”
In reaction to his Golden Globe nomination, he joked, “I've got to change my ‘EGOT’ to ‘EGGOT.’”
As the years went by, the likelihood dwindled that Thomas would complete the EGOT before his self-imposed deadline. In 1988, Thomas, still four awards short, entered into Miami Vice’s fifth and final season. “I would still like to win a GRAMMY. I still would like to win a Tony, Oscar and an Emmy,” Thomas confessed to ET in September of that year. “I have not stopped. It's a long road. Like the Chinese proverb. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I'm still stepping, but not just walking. I'm running.”
"THAT'S A GOOD GOAL FOR A TALENTED CRAZY PERSON." TRACY JORDAN, 30 ROCK
While chatting on the set of Nash Bridges in 2001, reuniting with Johnson on-screen in a guest star role, ET asked Thomas to reflect on creating EGOT and how he felt about his ambitious plan in retrospect.
“I'm doing pretty good,” Thomas said, noting that he’s at least “been in shows that have won Emmys.”
“I pray [that] with my musical, Sacha the Magic Cookie Maker, that I'll be in the Tonys and possibly the Oscars for the music,” Thomas shared. “I still reach high.”
Over 25 years after Thomas invented the hallmark of artistic achievement, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) took up the quest on 30 Rock. In the spirit of Tiny Fey’s sitcom’s trademark of playing with pop culture folklore (see also the episode where Tracy becomes obsessed with celebrity deaths and the "rule of three"), the season 4 arc began with Tracy coming across Thomas’ aforementioned EGOT pendant, which inspires him to take up the quest himself. As part of his journey, Tracy seeks words of wisdom from Goldberg.
Whoopi: You cannot fake your way to an EGOT, fool. You know… [gestures to trophies] All these awards I got, I got for projects I believed in.
Tracy: Wait, is that a Daytime Emmy?
Whoopi: It still counts. Girl's gotta eat.
On top of becoming one of 30 Rock’s most memorable episodes, the storyline resurrected the EGOT concept and elevated the collection of rare honors to new heights in award season discourse.
THE STATE OF THE EGOT
As Tracy Jordan discovered, one of the sure-fire ways to complete the EGOT is through composing music. It worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber, Robert Lopez and, most recently, Alan Menken.
But for some EGOT-ers, it’s achieved via a mixed bag of talents. Goldberg’s performances locked down ‘EGO,’ while her Tony Award came from producing a Broadway play (just as it later would for Hudson). Legend, the most high-profile EGOT achiever in recent years, landed his ‘GOT’ through music but the Emmy followed a rare lead actor role in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. Meanwhile, Moreno, whose EGOT completion pre-dated its linguistic designation, attained her status in a flush of strictly performance-based honors.
From here to every award season moving forward, EGOT will, in all likelihood, remain a major talking point around the big four, especially for those nearing the finish line. Adele, Eminem and Common need a Tony Award (as well as Kate Winslet, who at one point shared her plans 'to win that f**ker'). On the GRAMMY side, Viola Davis, Helen Mirren and Al Pacino lack the gramophone statuette. Emmy awards are seemingly the most frequent trophy to knock out in the beginning, aside from the exception that proves the rule, Elton John. Meanwhile, the Academy Award proves to be the elusive hold out for some big names. Notable EGTs include Hugh Jackman, Cynthia Erivo, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Bette Midler, Billy Porter and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
For better or worse, Thomas is forever associated with EGOT. And while he's yet to gain any of the coveted honors, the performer can boast his one-of-a-kind addition to the pop culture lexicon.