Howard Hesseman, known for role in ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ dies at 81

Television legend and longtime actor Howard Hesseman died this weekend at the age of 81.

According to a report from Fox News, the actor’s manager, Robbie Kass, said Hesseman died in Los Angeles on Sunday as a result of complications arising from colon surgery.

Art imitates life

In a prime example of art imitating life, Hesseman rose to fame playing disc jockey Johnny Fever on the CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati after having once worked at a radio station himself.

Hesseman received two Emmy Award nominations for his portrayal of Fever as a counter-culture figure, something he once spoke about during an interview with The New York Times.

“I think maybe Johnny smokes a little marijuana, drinks beer and wine, and maybe a little hard liquor,” Hesseman told the paper in 1979.

“And on one of those hard mornings at the station, he might take what for many years was referred to as a diet pill,” the actor continued, adding that the character was “a moderate user of soft drugs, specifically marijuana.”

WKRP in Cincinnati creator Hugh Wilson told The Classic TV History Blog in 2012 that Hesseman’s character was based on someone he met in the radio business.

Character inspired by Atlanta DJ

Wilson spoke of “a guy I knew in Atlanta called Skinny Bobby Harper,” who was famous for his enjoyment of the evening scene.

“That was funny, because he was the morning guy, so Skinny had to get up at 4 in the morning to get in there,” the series creator recalled, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “But he also loved being in the bars at night. He was like Fever.”

According to Fox, Hesseman hosted NBC’s Saturday Night Live on three separate occasions and played a number of other roles on television.

That included portraying Charlie Moore, a former acting and history teacher who instructed a group of gifted high school students for four seasons on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class. He also appeared in One Day At A Time and The Bob Newhart Show, Fox said.

In addition to his wife, Caroline Ducrocq, Hesseman is survived by the couple’s three godchildren, Grace, Hamish, and Chet.

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