Today, centerfieldmaz remembers Robert Hegyes who portrayed the character Juan Epstein, in one my favorite classic sitcoms Welcome Back Kotter.
Robert Hegyes was born May 7th, 1951 in Perth Amboy,New Jersey. He grew up in nearby Metuchen, NJ, attending high school there, then going to Rowan University at Glassboro, NJ. He began acting in a Greewich Village Theater group as a teen & got the part for Welcome Back Kotter at age 23 in 1974. In reality Hegyes was of Italian / Hungarian decent although he portrayed the Puerto Rican / Jewish "Sweat Hog" Juan Epstein.
On "Welcome Back Kotter"- Juan was one of many Epstein brothers & sisters. He usually wore cut off denim vests & sported a high afro. He was the tough guy of the sweat hogs, walking around with a bad ass strut & a red bandanna hangin out of his pocket. He was voted "most likley to take a life" at Brooklyn's Buchanan high school by his classmates. The actor Hedgyes was a fan of the Marx Brothers & his resembelence to Harpo Marx made his impersonation of him on the show even stronger.
The funniest of all Epstein's antics was that he that he always had an excuse note for every occasion. "Hey Mr. Kotter I got a note". The note would be lip synched by Juan as Mr. Kotter read it aloud. The notes were always forged "Juan's mother" as it was obvious he had written them.
Welcome Back Kotter aired on TV from 1975-1979 reaching #18 in the ratings in its first season & #13 in its second season, before falling off. The show became a huge hit with a large cult following, spawning off comic books, lunch boxes, action figures & trading cards. The show has since remained popular in reruns & in 2011 all living cast members (except Horseshack) were on hand to recieve a TV Land Award for its 35th anniversary. John Travolta is also godfather to Hegyes children.
The actor Robert Hegyes also had a recurring part in the show Cagney & Lacy. He made appearances on The Streets of San Francisco, Chico & the Man, CHIPS, Diagnosis Murder, the Drew Carey Show, News Radio, the $20, 0000 Pyramid & Saturday Night Live. He also was a star in the award winning Volkswagon commercial "The Chase" as well as making appearances in movies; Honeymoon Hotel, The Purpose & Bob Roberts.
Hegyes later taught acting, writing & public speaking at his alma mater Rowan University in New Jersey, as well as at Brooks College in Long Beach, California. Sadly, Hedgyes passed away from a heart attack yesterday, January 26th in Edison New Jersey, he was 60 years old.