Robert Hegyes of 'Welcome Back, Kotter' dies at 60

Robert Hegyes, the actor who played the multi-named, if not multi-talented Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein on 1970s television hit "Welcome Back, Kotter," has died at the age of 60.

Robert Hegyes suffered an apparent heart attack at his Metuchen, New Jersey home on Thursday morning. It was reported that by the time he was being transported to JFK Medical Center, he was already in full cardiac arrest and died.

Born in 1951, within a year of graduating from college, Robert Hegyes was cast to co-star in the highly acclaimed Off-Broadway dramatic show, "Naomi Court," which starred actor Brad Davis of "Midnight Express" fame. He was then cast by Tony Award- winning actor Len Cariou, who was making his directorial debut, to co-star in the Broadway drama, "Don't Call Back," which also starred Arlene Francis and Dorian Harewood.

It was then, while performing on Broadway, that Hegyes auditioned for TV producer James Komack and won the role that was to make him famous. He was cast to star as one of the "Sweathogs" in what was to become the award-winning and hit ABC comedy, "Welcome Back, Kotter," starring Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter. However, the show's popularity faded quickly and it lasted only four seasons, from 1975-1979.

That TV show launched the career of John Travolta, who also starred as a Sweathog, Vinnie Barbarino. Other Sweathogs included Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo) and Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). In the fourth and final season, Travolta was phased out of the show, as by that time he had appeared in the movies " Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever," and wanted to focus on movies. It is generally believed that it was the phasing out of John Travolta and Barbarino from the storyline that led to the cancellation of the show itself.

However, other changes did not help the show. Mr. Kotter was promoted to Vice-Principal, and the show's focus moved away from his class. In addition, there were behind-the-scenes disputes which led to limited appearances by Kaplan. Stephen Shortridge joined the cast as smooth-talking Beau De LaBarre, and Kotter's wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman), became a secretary at the school.

In her personal life, Hegyes was married three times, to to Mary Kunes (1973 to 1977), with no children; Kyle Drummer (1979 to 1984), also with no children, and to Lynn O'Hare (1987 to 1993) with two children Cassondra 1987, Mac 1991. He was also in a relationship with Cynthia Wylie (1994 to 2007).

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Submitted by Mary Hegyes Sandoval (not verified) on
I am proud to have shared the journey with Bobby to achieve his life’s dream, through his determination at college, through his walking the streets of New York looking for acting jobs, taking gigs at puppet shows, off Broadway, Broadway and to get the ultimate request to come the LA for Welcome Back Kotter which really satisfied his artistic endeavors. The move to CA in our van was a glorious time. One of my many laughing events was when he went to the producer’s house in Beverly Hills when we first arrived, and he was stopped by the cops, thinking that the thug with the afro was looking to break in. That was the beginning of the end of his anonimity. Many more memories exist but the point of this communication is that we had 10 years of very special memories and 4 years were wild Hollywood times with the Kotter boys- we were all new in town and had our own camaraderie . His comedic spirit was what kept us laughing all the time and I am happy for the years I spent with him. He just wanted to entertain and make people laugh. His love of the arts , teaching and mentorship served him well and completed him. I know that his children were the Joy of his Life, above all, and he was so proud of Cassie and Mac. Bobby always stayed connected to his Metuchen and college roommates, who were his grounding elements. Thank you, guys. In a word, Marx Brothers….he was the personification of their comedy, embedding that into Kotter episodes, even. I wish his dream of producing a Marx Brothers movie could have materialized. I am truly saddened for his difficult life and health issues, and feel comfort that he has returned “home” to Metuchen, NJ where it all began for him. I feel comforted that he is now with his beloved mother, Marie, who inspired his acting career, and his Dad, Steve, who took such tender care of his family. Comforting memories go to his siblings- Mark, Stephanie, and Beth and I am sure you will miss your family leader and big brother. I am sad he elected to go to the light so early in life, but am happy he is out of pain and is reunited with Mom, Dad. Nana and Pop. He will now move freely without pain, orchestrate a grand play with the angels for us, and come back to rock the world again in his own way. Bobby, we will miss you now, though. Thank you for the laughter and love. Peace. Mary Kunes Hegyes Sandoval