Born Rickey Lee Lawson in Loma Linda, California, Lawson served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before embarking on an acting career. His first feature film role (uncredited) was that of a gay man targeted for murder in the classic 1971 movie Dirty Harry. In 1973, he played Willis in Scream Blacula Scream. His other well known roles include the 1979 movie The Main Event, and the 1984 drama Streets of Fire, where he played Officer Ed Price.
Lawson's first on-going starring role in a television series was in Australian drama Hotel Story in 1977. That series was cancelled before the first episode had gone to air. He later starred in the 1980s series Chicago Story; he took the on-going role of Nick Kimball in night time soap opera Dynasty from 1986–1987, appeared in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd as Detective Nathaniel Hawthorne from 1989–1991, and was in the day time soap opera All My Children as Lucas Barnes from 1992-1994. Lawson has made many guest appearances on TV, including roles on Kojak, Get Christie Love!, Sister, Sister, Soul Food, The Bernie Mac Show, The Division and Strong Medicine.
Lawson has one child, actress Bianca Lawson with actress Denise Gordy.
In March 1992, Lawson was a passenger of the ill-fated USAir Flight 405 that crashed after take-off from LaGuardia International Airport in Queens, New York City, New York.