Hawkins was born as Thomas Knight Slater in Harlem, New York City. He would also use the stage name Michael Gainsborough. During the 1940s lived in the Strathmore section of Manhasset, New York on Long Island. His family left Manhasset in 1950. It is not clear where he was raised after that point.
After a small role on the CBS soap opera Search for Tomorrow, he played Dr. Paul Stewart #4 on another CBS soap opera, As the World Turns. He later replaced David Birney as Mark Elliott on yet another CBS show, Love is a Many Splendored Thing.
He later created the role of older son Frank Ryan on the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope but was fired from the role at the end of the show's first year reportedly due to his alcoholism. He was asked back, but replaced with actor Andrew Robinson later that year. At the time she was cast in Ryan's Hope, Helen Gallagher taught singing in her home three times a week. Michael Hawkins was one of her students.
Hawkins was married to casting director Mary Jo Slater until their divorce in 1976; their only child is actor Christian Slater.
In the mid-1990s in Los Angeles, Hawkins, using the name Michael D. Gainsborough, he composed a wide range of songs of varied genres. This collection of songs hinged on the lyrics "Make Haste Slowly (Baby)" and were an example of his ability to compose "variations on a theme," much like the work of Italian Artist, Fornasetti. These compositions spanned such musical genres as country, hip-hop, funk and vaudeville.