Actor Robert Hegyes passed away this morning of a heart attack. He was 60.
Hegyes is best known for his portrayal of Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein, one of the sweathogs on Welcome Back, Kotter from 1975 to 1979 co-starring with Gabe Kaplan and a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta. I think it’s safe to say that Epstein was the first and remains the only Puerto Rican Jew to appear on American television. I didn’t realize the show was briefly banned in Boston. Then again what wasn’t banned in Boston in the 1970s?
Hegyes and Kaplan had a strong on-screen chemistry especially when Kotter was reading notes signed by Epstein’s mother or when Hegyes played Chico to Kaplan’s Groucho. During the 1980s, Hegyes reunited with Kaplan on stage in A Night with Groucho. Later in the decade, Hegyes joined the cast of Cagney & Lacey.
The cast of Welcome Back, Kotter reunited last year save Ron Palillo and were interviewed on Good Morning America. Here’s an interview Hegyes did last year recounting his days on Welcome Back, Kotter.