Thomas was born in Columbus, Ohio, but grew up in San Bernardino, California. His father, Louis Diggs, was a plant foreman at Westinghouse. Thomas's mother was Lulu McMorris. He and his seven half brothers and sisters went by the surname Thomas, which was the last name of his mother's first husband.
As a child, he acted in his church's theater group, and at age 15, while participating in the Pentecostal Delman Heights Four Square Gospel Church choir, became interested in ministry. He graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1967 and briefly took up work as a janitor to save money for college. Thomas earned a scholarship to the predominantly black Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, where he studied religion and philosophy after high school.
After two years at Oakwood College, Thomas transferred to the University of California, Riverside. During this time, he auditioned for and won a role in the San Francisco cast of Hair, which began his acting career. Thomas ultimately quit school to pursue acting as a profession, appearing in several features during the 1970s. His big break came in 1984, when he landed a starring role in the popular television series, Miami Vice, alongside Don Johnson.
Thomas played the role of Ricardo Tubbs, an ex-NYPD police officer from the Bronx who came to Miami seeking revenge on the person who killed his brother Rafael Tubbs. In Miami he encounters another undercover cop, Sonny Crockett, who is coincidentally looking for the same person.
Thomas was reportedly paid $25,000 per episode for Seasons 1-2. In 1986, he was given an increase to $50,000 per episode for Seasons 3-5. While his co-star, Don Johnson, was paid $30,000 per episode for Seasons 1-2 and $90,000 per episode for Seasons 3-5.
Thomas coined the acronym "EGOT", meaning "Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony", in reference to his plans for winning all four. He has not, as yet, been nominated for any of these awards, but has received a People's Choice Award and a Golden Globe nomination.
In 1994 Thomas signed an agreement with Florida-based Psychic Reader's Network (later known as Traffix, Inc.) to become the spokesman for the Philip Michael Thomas International Psychic Network. He appeared in television ads and claimed to have met the planet's premier psychics through his "world travels". He dressed similarly to his Miami Vice alter ego, even opening the ads with the phrase, "From Miami Vice to world advice!" He appeared in informercials with Eileen Brennan and Todd McKee and his daughter, Sacha Nicole, to promote the psychic line. Thomas even released a cassette of music tied to his psychic business titled PMT Psychic Connection, Volume I.
Traffix replaced Thomas with Miss Cleo. Thomas sued, alleging breach of contract, and won. In 2002 a New York arbitrator awarded Thomas $1.48 million for improper use of his name and likeness and an additional $780,000 in interest.
In 1997, Thomas was reunited with Don Johnson in the police drama Nash Bridges. He played Cedrick "Rick" Hawks, a U.S. Postal Inspector from Miami visiting Bridges (Johnson) in San Francisco. His first appearance was in the episode "Wild Card", and his second and final appearance was in the episode "Out of Miami", aired in 2001 during the program's final season.
He performed a voice-over in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) (VG) as Lance Vance, a main character who is trying to avenge his brother, Victor Vance's death. He reprised the voice-over role in the prequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006) (VG) which details Lance's arrival in Vice City, his business with drugs, and his relationship with his brother.
In 1985, Thomas released a music album titled "Living the Book of My Life" album under his own record label called Spaceship Records. It sold poorly and failed to produce a hit single, although Thomas produced a video for the track "Just the Way I Planned It". Thomas performed the title song of the album during the 1985 Miami Vice episode, "The Maze." The episode "Trust Fund Pirates" featured another of his songs, "La Mirada". Thomas' Miami Vice costar Don Johnson recorded an album shortly afterward titled Heartbeat. Although Johnson's album was more successful (producing a top 5 single), both albums are considered prime examples of the hubris of successful performers. In 1987 Thomas recorded a song called "Ever and forever" with the singer Lucía Galán.
Thomas followed up in 1988 with a second album, Somebody. It also failed to produce a hit and sold poorly. In 1993, Thomas teamed with Kathy Rahill to compose "My, My, My, Miam...I", which was chosen as the city of Miami's theme song. That same year, Thomas teamed with Jamaican fitness instructor Sandi Morais to compose songs for a family-friendly musical titled Sacha, which enjoyed runs in south Florida and New York. The two formed the Magic Cookie Production Company. Thomas produced the music for Morais' fitness videos in 2001 and 2006.
Thomas is a vegetarian and is known as a nonsmoker and nondrinker. In 1986, Thomas married Kassandra Thomas. They have five children together (Noble, Kharisma, Sovereign, Sacred, and Imaj). In 1998, Thomas and Kassandra divorced. Thomas also has six other children (Sacha, Khrishna, India, Gabriel, Chayenne, and Melody) from previous relationships.Come Back, Charleston Blue (1972)
Book of Numbers (1973)
Mr. Ricco (1975)
Black Fist (1975)
El hombre de los hongos (1976)
The Beasts Are on the Streets (1978)
Death Drug (1978)
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979) (short film)
The Dark (1979)
Of Stigma (1982)
Hey Good Lookin' (1982) (voice)
False Witness (1985)
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1989) (feature-length version)
Miami Shakedown (1993) (also executive producer)
River of Stone (1994)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as Lance Vance (2002)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories as Lance Vance (2006)
Toma (1973) (pilot for series)
Good Times (1974)
The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1978)
Starsky & Hutch (1978)
Roots: The Next Generations (1979) (miniseries)
Lawman Without a Gun (1979)
Miami Vice (1984–1989)
A Fight for Jenny (1986)
False Witness (1989)
Zorro: Pride of the Pueblo (1990)
A Little Piece of Sunshine (1990)
Detective Extralarge: Moving Target (1990) (with Bud Spencer)
Detective Extralarge: Miami Killer (1991)
Detective Extralarge: Magic Power (1991)
Detective Extralarge: Jo-Jo (1991)
Detective Extralarge: Cannonball (1991)
Detective Extralarge: Black Magic (1991)
Detective Extralarge: Black and White (1991)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)
Noi siamo angeli (We Are Angels) (1997) (miniseries) (with Bud Spencer)