Thursday, January 26, 2012

Robert Hegyes

Robert Hegyes who was best known as Epstein on the 1970s classic Welcome Back Kotter, died this morning after an apparent heart attack in his Metuchen, N.J., home. He was 60 years old.Hegyes grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey and began acting in high school in the mid-1960s. Upon graduation from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), with a B.A. in Speech/Theater & Secondary Education, Hegyes ventured to New York City to pursue a career in acting and soon became a member of a Greenwich Village children's theater group called, "Theater in a Trunk", performing educational theater at US President Theodore Roosevelt's birth place, on East 13 Street. Hegyes continued performing in the Village in educational children's theater, this time as a puppeteer with an arm and rod puppet company, playing "Mr. Toad," in, "The Wind & the Willows." Robert managed to work a third performing job in Washington Square Park and at the Provincetown Playhouse as a member of the political improvisational guerrilla troupe, "Jack LaRumpa's Flying Drum & Kazoo Band."

Within a year of graduating from college, Hegyes was cast to co-star in the highly acclaimed Off Broadway drama, Naomi Court, starring actor Brad Davis (Midnight Express). After completing the successful Manhattan Theater Club engagement, Robert was cast by Tony Award- winning actor Len Cariou (making his directing debut) to co-star in the Broadway drama, Don't Call Back, starring Arlene Francis and Dorian Harewood. While performing on Broadway, Hegyes auditioned for television producer James Komack and was cast to star in what was to become the award-winning ABC comedy, Welcome Back, Kotter. The show lasted four seasons, from 1975-'79. At the age of 25, Hegyes became one of the show's directors.

On Welcome Back, Kotter Hegyes played Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos EpsteinA fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew (his father was Puerto Rican; his mother's name was Bibbermann), and one of the toughest students at Buchanan High, despite his short stature. He normally walked with a tough-man strut, wore a red handkerchief hanging out of his right back pocket, and was voted "Most Likely to Take a Life" by his peers. In the season one episode, "One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing", Epstein was shown to be the sixth child in his family, although his mother had 10, while in the episode "I'm Having Their Baby" he mentions that his mother gave birth 8 times. The only names of his siblings mentioned in the show are two brothers, Pedro and Sanchez ("One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing") and a younger sister, Carmen ("A Love Story"). Epstein's toughness was downplayed later on, and became more of a wiseguy. He was also known to have a "buddy" relationship with Principal Lazarus as he often referred to him by his first name, Jack. On a few occasions, when Kotter would do his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Chico Marx or Harpo Marx. Epstein's diminutive height and large hair are common jokes associated with him.


Hegyes guest starred in more than thirty television shows, including Saturday Night Live, with Quentin Tarantino, NewsRadio, Diagnosis: Murder, with Dick Van Dyke, The Drew Carey Show (in an April Fools' Day episode where the character, "Oswald", was "recast" for a brief scene with Hegyes playing the role) and The Streets of San Francisco, with Michael Douglas. He also starred in the award-winning Volkswagen Passat commercial, "The Chase", for director Kinka Usher. Hegyes has starred in the following films: Honeymoon Hotel, with Jane Kaczmarek, Underground Aces, with Melanie Griffith, Bob Roberts, with Tim Robbins, The Purpose, with Mia Farrow, and Bar Hopping, with Weeds star Kevin Nealon.
Robert made his Los Angeles stage debut to rave notices as "Chico Marx" in the Westwood and National Touring Company engagements of, An Evening with Groucho. Upon returning from the tour, Robert was cast by Producer Barney Rosenswieg to star as a series regular portraying undercover detective "Manny Esposito" in the Emmy Award-winning drama, Cagney & Lacey, starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless.
Hegyes became "Artist-In-Residence" at his alma mater, Rowan University, teaching screenplay writing, acting for camera and public speaking, and was a guest lecturer in the Radio/Television/Film & Theater Departments. He was an adjunct instructor at Brooks College in Long Beach, California, where he taught essay writing and public speaking. Hegyes was a California Certified Secondary Education teacher, but had worked infrequently in recent years.

To quote Epstein, "When my mother was pregnant, she used to want hot peppers, you know? Every day, hot peppers, hot peppers, hot peppers. When we was born, the first thing we asked for was a glass of water!"

 Good Night Mr. Hegyes

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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