Howard Hesseman, who was part of the ensemble that made WKRP in Cincinnati a television staple and later starred on Head of the Class, died Saturday at Cedar-Sinai Health Center in Los Angeles from complications following colon surgery.
Hesseman also played Capt. Pete Lassard in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Sam Royer on One Day at a Time and struggling screenwriter Craig Plager on The Bob Newhart Show.
“He was a groundbreaking talent & life long friend and long time client, whose kindness and generosity was equaled by his influence and admiration to generations of actors and improvisational comedy throughout the world,” said his manager, Robbie Kass, who confirmed the death. “He will be sorely missed and always treasured.”
Born on February 27, 1940, in Lebanon, Oregon, he attended the University of Oregon before becoming a founding member of the San Francisco comedy troupe The Commitee along with fellow actor David Ogden Stiers. He used the name Don Sturdy early in his career while working as a radio DJ.
Still using the alias, Hesseman made his first television appearances, working on cop show Dragnet in 1968. In the episode, his character was a panelist on a TV show opposite series stars Sgt. Joe Friday and Officer Gannon.
From there, Hesseman launched a career as a role player on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and in various series from The Andy Griffith Show and Rhoda to Sanford & Son, Baretta and Soap.
In July 1969, he appeared with The Committee in several sketches on The Dick Cavett Show, joined in one sketch by singer Janis Joplin.
His biggest role was yet to come. He played anti-disco DJ John “Dr. Johnny Fever” Caravella on WKRP in Cincinnati from 1978 to 1982. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1980 and 1981 for the role.
That role cemented him as a go-to actor, and he reprised the character in nine episodes of The New WKRP in Cincinnati and also directed several episodes of the 1991-93 series revival.
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In the late 1980s into the ’90s, Hesseman starred teacher Charlie Moore on nearly 100 episodes the ABC comedy Head of the Class. He also played Sam Royer, the man who married Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano on the original One Day at a Time from 1982-84.
He made three appearances on Saturday Night Live, then took on a decidedly different role in 1995, when he played the Marquis de Sade in Quills at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. He was fully naked in one scene.
Hesseman appeared in three epiodes of That ’70s Show In 2001, then did three for Boston Legal.
He continued working through 2018, where he had a part in the 2018 film Dirty Politics. His last TV role was in a 2017 episode of Fresh Off The Boat.
Information on survivors and memorial plans was not immediately available.
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