Howard Hesseman, who built a career out of playing eccentric characters, none more famous than radio jockey Johnny Fever on the comedy WKRP in Cincinnati, has died. He was 81 years old.
According to his wife, actress, and acting teacher Caroline Ducrocq, Hesseman died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after complications from colon surgery he had last summer.
Hesseman, a member of the San Francisco improv group The Committee and a real-life DJ in the 1960s, was also recognized for his role as an out-of-work actor turned history teacher Charlie Moore on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class.
In the ninth and final season of One Day at a Time, his character, architect Sam Royer, married long-term divorcee Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin).
Hesseman also played hippies in Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968) and on NBC’s Dragnet (he was billed as Don Sturdy back then); a writer’s block patient on The Bob Newhart Show; a psychiatrist on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; a pimp opposite Dan Aykroyd in Doctor Detroit (1983); and the manager of rocker Duke Fame in This Is Spinal Tap (1984).
Hesseman was nominated for an Emmy in 1980 and 1981 for his work on CBS’ WKRP in Cincinnati, which aired for four seasons (1978-82). He became a countercultural symbol with his sunglasses, mustache, and slouch.
He was born in Lebanon, on February 27, 1940. His father was a pianist and an auto-parts salesman. His parents split when he was five years old, and his mother married a cop.
After graduating from Silverton High School in 1958, Hesseman attended the University of Oregon for a couple of years before heading to San Francisco to work as a disc jockey for the underground rock station KMPX. He later joined The Committee, where he adopted the stage name, Don Sturdy.