Having felt for some time that there just wasn't enough acting work in the U.K., Lewis decided to base his career in the United States in order to capitalise on his exposure there through Jack the Ripper. But despite the success of the show, he had only one starring rôle there in 1989, in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He came close to landing another coveted rôle, that of Simon Templar in a new production of The Saint but narrowly missed getting the part. So he decided to pursue one of his other ambitions and enrolled on a two-year course at UCLA studying film direction, which meant that, apart from a cameo appearance in A Ghost in Monte Carlo filmed at the end of 1989, he was pretty much absent from the screen for the duration of his studies. But he found being out of the limelight a little frustrating, saying "I feel like an artist who doesn't get his work seen."66
He returned to British television in 1991 as a murder victim in an episode of Cluedo which was in its second series. Then, just after his marriage, he was cast as Colonel Mustard for the third series in 1992. This was further typecasting of sorts, but Lewis was fairly resigned to that by this stage. "Producers play safe, so I normally play cops and soldiers. If I was going to put a lot of money into something, I'd want to be sure a guy could do it. Martin Shaw is having a lot of trouble with typecasting too – he's very much into being Dustin Hoffman, as I was, but I've got a bit jaded. Maybe if I persevere I can make a 180 degree turn."29 But he also acknowledged that "there are an awful lot of actors out there and not nearly enough work to go round."64
Things seemed to be looking up for Lewis again when he was also cast in a touring production of the stage play Sleuth alongside Richard Todd. This was due to start in Windsor in July 1992 but there were some last-minute financial problems and the play was cancelled. After a six-year absence Lewis went back to panto that Christmas, but in 1993 he appeared in two episodes of Tarzán, a Canadian production filmed in Mexico, and returned to 'serious' theatre in the play Who Killed 'Agatha' Christie?. This was a two-man play in which he starred with Patrick Mower, and was a tremendous success. The show toured all around Britain for almost a year, by which time the two actors were adding in their own improvisations to the script, but this only seemed to enhance the enjoyment of the audience. The reviews were unanimously glowing, with Lewis in particular receiving well-deserved praise for his performance. This seemed to reassure Lewis that he was at last shaking off his CI5 character, saying, "People do try and keep you in little boxes. But that seems to have subsided now and I can look back on The Professionals with affection."66
He was so reconciled to the association that he even entered into discussions about reviving the rôle, as well as auditioning for another 'cop' rôle in The Bill, a long-running police drama, but success was to elude Lewis yet again. "I am really disappointed as I would have loved to have joined The Bill", he said. "It is a real shame because plans to bring back The Professionals have been scrapped. There was a plan to make a new series with two new guys and me in the rôle of the boss that the late Gordon Jackson played, but at the last moment that idea was dumped. I have been doing stage work but I would love a new T.V. rôle."67 But there was now nothing on the horizon, and Lewis said he wouldn't recommend the acting profession to anyone, "not just because it's a cut-throat business, because there are a lot of businesses like that. It's because the work is so sparse. Neither is it a question of talent – you've got to have the breaks, and just when you get somewhere you can get knocked right back to the word Go."65
He made a guest appearance on the radio comedy The Skivers, and also appeared on stage with Lorraine Chase in the The Decorator, and 1994 ended in panto again. 1995 brought in some voice work, where he narrated the documentary Siege!, about armed response units around the world, and also voiced a series of commercials for the Automobile Association "though you probably wouldn’t know it was me,"69 he said modestly. But acceptable offers of acting work had dried up. Lewis, with his wife and three young sons, moved to Los Angeles permanently, where he slipped successfully under the radar and focussed on his family and his business interests instead.
He did pop up on T.V. occasionally for interviews and the odd personal appearance, and in 1997 he caused a real buzz of anticipation when he hinted during one interview that he was in negotiations to appear in The New Professionals in a similar rôle to that proposed in 1994. But the talks fell through and the rôle eventually went to Edward Woodward and Lewis ended yet another year with a final stint in panto. Then in 1999 he turned up in his first UK T.V. rôle for seven years in an episode of the 1970s-based comedy The Grimleys, lampooning his hard-man image. He also took to the stage again, touring in the play Dangerous Corner which ran on into 2000. In 2002 he appeared as a doctor in an episode of The Bill. "The part of Dr. Allen is really good," he said. "That’s the kind of rôle I enjoy. I don't want to do any more gun-toting characters."68
No new public work followed, but the world hadn't heard the last of Lewis Collins. His name, and Bodie's, had become synonymous with tough-guy action, and are still instantly recognisable as a byword for machismo - even action video games have made reference to Lewis Collins. In 2006 Life on Mars actor John Simm acknowledged the inspiration for his performance of Sam Tyler, his 1973 character: "If there's anything in my head about the way Sam looks and acts, for me, it's Bodie, as played by Lewis Collins."68 In 2007 the Liverpool Echo included Lewis in its list of the 800 greatest Liverpudlians, as part of Liverpool's 800th anniversary.
For eleven years fans waited patiently for his return to the stage or to televsion, however on the morning of 28th November, 2013 the wait was over. It was announced that Lewis had died the evening before, having fought a long and private battle with cancer. Fans new and old were shocked and saddened by the news, and tributes poured in from around the world as fans expressed their grief at having lost a man who was, to many, a hero.
Lewis's autobiography is to be published posthumously and has given his fans the opportunity to enjoy his last work, in his own words.
Constant repeats of The Professionals on the UK's ITV4 channel have ensured that Lewis is still attracting admirers as newer and younger fans discover the show and the talents of an actor who at one time seemed to have the world at his feet. And there are DVDs of his past triumphs still to enjoy, (and the disasters too!) so that his work and talent will never be forgotten. This fascinating fifty-year career is one Lewis's family should be proud of.