Today We Mourn a Sweathog

Robert Hegyes who played Juan Epstein on “Welcome Back Kotter” died on Thursday, leaving behind him a 70s TV legacy, along with Vinnie Barbarino, Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington and Horshack (baby, Horshack).

I’m sure most of us haven’t thought of Robert since the 70s, when we all had the issue of Dynamite with his afro nicely framed by the masthead. “Bob Hegyes is a Real Person!” it reminded us. Real, and mortal apparently.

(On a side note, who remembers the Dynamite Duo from Dynamite magazine? Brother and sister superheroes who could control gravity. They had one story run where they take on a black hole. It was so cool. Though before that, they did Superhero origins. I still remember the two page spread for the Fantastic Four and the one for Batman. But I digress…)

Yes, I’m being a little tongue and cheek here (me!?!?). It is very sad that Robert died so young. At my age, 60 seems closer than ever before and I still have lots of things to do. What’s even sadder was Robert’s post-Kotter career, and those of many like him. There can only be one John Travolta on such a show (if at all), and the rest fade into TV Land.

In GEEKS! THE MUSICAL! there is the character of Mel Tyler, a has-been TV actor. Granted, his character was more type cast than forgotten, but he did share some of the same path as Robert. They were a household name (or face) for a while, and then… nothing. I’m fascinated by how an actor reacts to that. I’ve met a few of them at the San Diego Comic Con and the Shrine show, and there, they do seem happy and appreciative. Probably because I lead with a favorable comment, like telling Mark Singer (V, Beastmaster) that he was my childhood hero. (Hmmm… anybody making any connections here?)

But I’m sure many of these has been actors are bitter and angry. I could name a few here who I know for sure are, but I don’t want to get sued.

Is having had your career peak early so bad? How about those who never had one. I’d rather be remembered for a character I played in the 70s than never remembered at all. If I were an actor, of course.

But hey, even if GEEKS! hits its big (of course, I mean WHEN it hits it big) and I never have another success after that (again, we know I will), I’ll at least be happy knowing I had one moment of success. My 15 minutes, if you will.

And after that…

I’ll be signing autographs down in San Diego next to Ron Palillo.


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