Howard Hesseman, who played Dr. Johnny Fever on the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” and history teacher turned actor Charlie Moore on “Head of the Class,” has died. He was 81 years old.
His manager Robbie Kass said Hesseman died Saturday in Los Angeles from complications from colon surgery.
Hesseman, who was a radio DJ in the ’60s, earned two Emmy Award nominations for his role as Johnny Fever on CBS’s “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which ran for four seasons from 1978-1982. The role made Hesseman a counterculture icon at a time when very few hippies appeared on network television.
In the first episode, Dr. Johnny Fever announces the station’s change from elevator music to rock ‘n roll music with a record scratch and a manifesto.
“Okay, Cincinnati, it’s time for this town to come down! You have Johnny, Dr. Johnny Fever, and I’m on fire here. We are all in a critical condition, baby, but can you tell me where it hurts because I got my prescription here from the big KRP medicine cabinet. Now, I’m talking about your 50,000 watt intensive care unit, babies! ”
While preparing for one of his three “Saturday Night Live” gigs, Hesseman told The New York Times in 1979 that the character worried network executives. In one episode, Johnny Fever was given an on-air sobriety test after being given alcohol, only his reaction time continued to improve.
“I thought maybe Johnny smoked a little weed, drank beer and wine, and maybe a little hard liquor,” Hesseman said. “And on one of those rough mornings at the station, he could take what for years was called a weight loss pill. But he was a light user of drugs, specifically marijuana.”
Hesseman played a hippie in one of his earliest roles, on “Dragnet” in 1967, and also in Richard Lester’s 1968 film “Petulia”. Born in Lebanon, Oregon, Hesseman isn’t too disjointed with some of the characters he plays. In 1983, he told People magazine that he had conducted “pharmaceutical experiments in recreational chemistry”. In 1963, he was jailed in San Francisco for selling marijuana.
Originally performing under the name Don Sturdy, Hesseman started out as a member of the San Francisco improv group The Committee, frequently performing at anti-war and civil rights rallies.
At the time, he also acted as the discus player for the rock-and-roll station KMPX in San Francisco on Saturdays. Later on in “WKRP in Cincinnati,” Hesseman would often tell jokes on his airwaves.
Actor and comedian Michael McKean said on Twitter: “Howard Hesseman’s influence on generations of his candidates and generations to come cannot be overstated. He recalls first meeting Hesseman in 1971 with The Committee. “I see that he is the real one.”
Hesseman made a brief but memorable appearance with McKean in the 1984 rock production “This Is Spinal Tap” as Terry Ladd, manager of rock superstar Duke Fame. He bluntly ended the conversation: “We’d like to stay and talk, but we’ll sit in the lobby and wait for the limo.”
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Loni Anderson, Hesseman’s friend of 40 years and a co-star on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” said: “Howard is eloquent… stylish…and fun. “My favorite Howard subscription… a quote by Louis Armstrong… ‘Jazz is you.’ And now Howard, miss forever just what you are.”
In the 1986 ABC sitcom “Head of the Class,” Hesseman played a teacher for a diverse group of students in a classroom where dialogue often advanced significantly in Ronald Reagan’s 1980s. . Hesseman has sometimes criticized the show – co-created by political activist and writer Michael Elias – for not being as adventurous as he had hoped. He left it after four seasons and was replaced by Billy Connolly in the fifth and final season.
“Part of me said, ‘Is that all? A TV series? ‘ Obviously not. I could go on stage or be in movies,” Hesseman said in a 1989 interview. “But how many movies have been made that you want to be in? And how many people want you? There is a kind of ‘rental’ sign on my forehead. I’m an actor and I love working.”
As an actor with many excellent characters, Hesseman’s credits also include “The Andy Griffith Show,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Rockford Files,” “Laverne and Shirley,” and “The Bob.” Newhart Show”. More recently, he has appeared on “That 70’s Show,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “House,” and “Boston Legal.” Movies include “Police Academy 2: Their First Mission,” “About Schmidt,” “This Is Spinal Tap,” and “The Rocker.”
Hesseman is survived by actor and acting teacher Caroline Ducrocq, his wife.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/entertainment/entertainment-news/howard-hesseman-star-of-wkrp-in-cincinnati-dies-at-81/3126790/ Howard Hesseman, Star of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ Dies at 81 – NBC10 Philadelphia