Welcome Back Kotter Star Dead at 60

Robert Hegyes played Juan Epstein
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2012 7:16 AM CST
Welcome Back Kotter Star Dead at 60
Robert Hegyes attends the 9th Annual TV Land Awards at the Javits Center on April 10, 2011 in New York City.   (Getty Images)

Robert Hegyes, who co-starred with John Travolta on the 1970s TV show Welcome Back Kotter, has died at 60, apparently of a heart attack. His health had been suffering for years, his brother said; he died yesterday at his home in the New Jersey town where he grew up. On Kotter, Hegyes played Juan Epstein, a Jewish Puerto Rican remedial student who was one of the show's "Sweathogs." Hegyes once wrote that he based his character on Chico Marx: "They were immigrant Jews, and I was an immigrant Italian. Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo were intellectuals ... They all played the piano and took music lessons, and they were all juvenile delinquents; I could definitely relate."

Hegyes performed on Broadway before joining the cast of Kotter for its four seasons on ABC. He later appeared as a guest star in shows like NewsRadio and The Drew Carey Show and also co-starred on Cagney and Lacey. In addition to a few film roles, he wrote screenplays and taught at two colleges. Health problems prevented a one-man show planned in recent years. "He was a gentle guy," a New Jersey theater head tells the Star-Ledger. "He had, ironically, a big heart." (Read more television stories.)

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