Actor Robert Hegyes, best known for playing Sweathog Juan Epstein on Welcome Back, Kotter, has died. The Star-Ledger reports he suffered an apparent heart attack at his New Jersey home earlier this morning. He was 60 years old.
Hegyes played Epstein on ABC’s hit sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter for all four seasons, starring alongside Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, John Sylvester White, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Ron Palillo, and John Travolta.
The actor said that he modeled the “Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein” character after Chico Marx, whom he later played in a national touring production of A Night With Groucho. Most of the Kotter cast reunited at last year’s TV Land Awards to celebrate the sitcom’s 35th anniversary.
Hegyes also co-starred on Cagney & Lacey as Detective Manny Esposito and guest-starred on other beloved shows like The Love Boat, NewsRadio, Diagnosis Murder, The Drew Carey Show, and CHiPS.
His brother Mark, a resident of Montana, said that Hegyes suffered a heart attack a couple years ago and was not in good health. Local police responded to a call for medical assistance from Hegyes’ home at 9:02 am. Experiencing chest pains, Hegyes was taken to John F. Kennedy Medical Center. By the time he arrived at the emergency room at 9:40 am, he was in full cardiac arrest and died.
Mark Hegyes said that his brother was retired, but still talked about being involved in local arts efforts. Robert Hegyes is survived by three siblings, two children and two step-children.
What do you think? How will you remember Robert Hegyes’ work? From Kotter, Cagney & Lacey, or some other project?