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‘WKRP In Cincinnati’ Star Dies At 81

Actor Howard Hesseman, known as radio DJ Dr. Johnny Fever on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” died on Saturday at the age of 81.

Hesseman passed away in Los Angeles due to problems following colon surgery, according to manager Robbie Kass, Variety reported.

“Howard was a groundbreaking talent and lifelong friend whose kindness and generosity was equaled by his influence and admiration to generations of actors and improvisational comedy throughout the world,” Kass stated.

Hesseman received two Emmy nominations for his role on ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,” with the show running from 1978 to 1982. He later reprised his role in “The New WKRP in Cincinnati.”

“The series portrayed a struggling Top 40 rock radio station, where the staff rages against the age of disco with hard rock and punk songs. Mr. Hesseman’s hard-living character, having been pushed from a Los Angeles station where he was a star, serves as a senior member of the counterculture at the Midwestern outlet after smooth-talking his way into a job,” The New York Times reported.

“’I think maybe Johnny smokes a little marijuana, drinks beer and wine, and maybe a little hard liquor,’ Mr. Hesseman told The New York Times 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. But he is a moderate user of soft drugs, specifically marijuana,’” the report added.

The famed actor was also known for his role as Charlie Moore in ABC’s “Head of the Class,” where he played the role of a teacher in the long-running comedy.

In addition to his television roles, “Hesseman kept busy with appearances in such films as Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985), Heat (1986), Gridlock’d (1997), About Schmidt (2002), The Rocker (2008) and Halloween II (2009),” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Michael McKean, who worked with Hesseman on the comedy documentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” took to Twitter to share his reflections on their friendship.

“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,” he wrote.

“Howard’s character in Spinal Tap didn’t even exist until 24 hours before the shoot: we’d discovered that the musician we’d hired to play Duke Fame couldn’t improvise, so Rob said let’s give him a manager. I’ll call Howard. He blitzed it, of course,” McKean added. “We’d go years without seeing each other (Howard and Caroline lived mostly in Europe) but when we did, he’d hilariously fill me in on the great music, dumb show biz and silly-ass humans he’d encountered.”

Hesseman also served as host of “Saturday Night Live” on three occasions, as noted by Rolling Stone.

Hesseman is survived by his wife, Caroline Ducrocq, as well as their godchildren Grace, Hamish, and Chet.

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