Hesseman passed away on Saturday in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was best known for his role as a radio disc jockey trapped in the 1960s on the comedy “WKRP in Cincinnati.” He had reached the age of 81.
According to Caroline Ducrocq (The comedian’s wife), he died from complications after colon surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last summer.
For his role as Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati, which aired on CBS for four straight seasons between 1978 to 1982, Mr. Hesseman won two Emmy nominations. As a failing Top 40 rock radio station, the show depicted its crew as waging a musical war against disco’s golden period with heavy rock and punk.
When Mr. Hesseman’s stardom in Los Angeles was snuffed out, the hard-living figure was forced to take a position as a senior figure of the counterculture at a Midwest outlet.
Mr. Hesseman stated to The New York Times in 1979.
“I think maybe Johnny smokes a little marijuana, drinks beer and wine, and maybe a little hard liquor,” “And on one of those hard mornings at the station, he might take what for many years was referred to as a diet pill. But he is a moderate user of soft drugs, specifically marijuana.”
As a beloved TV character, Johnny Fever epitomized the 1960s counterculture: the reverence for bands; the use of veiled drug allusions; and the wild, shaggy hairstyle. In one instance, he adds in a gruff voice while D.J.ing wearing dark glasses and chatting in a laid-back manner “We’re still rocking on the mighty KRP, where the razor man is standing by to sharpen up your day.”
Impossible to overstate Howard Hesseman’s influence on his and subsequent generations of improvisors. The first time I saw him on stage (Troubadour, ’71, with The Committee) I saw that he was the real deal. He was a friend for 50 years. 1/3
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) January 30, 2022
George Howard was born and raised in Lebanon, Ore, and was the only child of his mother and stepfather. Years down the line, Mr. Hesseman would recall how his acting career had been sparked by a conversation with an uncle in Colorado. Before moving to San Francisco to concentrate on his work, he briefly went to The University of Oregon.
Aside from “The Andy Griffith Show,” Mr. Hesseman appeared in brief roles on “Sanford and Son” as well as “The Sanford and Son Show.”
On the location of “Head of the Class,” a comedy that aired on ABC between 1986 to 1991, George Spiro Dibie said that Hesseman’s expertise was clear.
“He was even telling some directors what to do,” he said. Mr. Hesseman played Charlie Moore, a teacher at a Manhattan high school contending with a class of overachieving students.
“This Is Spinal Tap” co-star Michael McKean tweeted Sunday that it was “hard to overestimate Howard Hesseman’s effect on his and succeeding generations of improvisers,” referring to Hesseman’s performance in the film.
During a visit to Los Angeles in 1981, he met Ms. Ducrocq, a French actress who had just divorced her husband. Ms. Ducrocq’s buddy asked her whether she wanted to swim in an actor’s pool, and she replied yes.
Ms. Ducrocq laughed, saying, “I had no clue who he was.”
While she was there, he served her Champagne, which she later discovered he’d never tasted before. She remained to toast the occasion. They got married in 1989. Among his favorite pastimes, he enjoyed listening to jazz music, swimming, and spending time with his godchildren, according to her.
The later actor is now survived by his wife Ms. Ducrocq.