Welcome Back, Kotter's Juan Epstein, Robert Hegyes, Dead at 60

New Jersey-born actor, who also starred on Cagney & Lacey, suffered an apparent heart attack

By Natalie Finn Jan 27, 2012 1:44 AMTags
Robert Hegyes, Welcome Back KotterABC

One of our Sweathogs really is missing now.

Robert Hegyes, best known for playing Juan Epstein—one of Gabe Kaplan's "star" pupils—in Welcome Back, Kotter, died this morning after an apparent heart attack, according to New Jersey's Star Ledger. He was 60.

The actor, who also played a detective on the later seasons of Cagney & Lacey, had been in poor health since suffering a previous heart attack a couple of years ago, according to his brother.

But he will always be remembered as the note-from-his-mutha-forging Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein!

"The character of Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter was modeled after Chico," the avowed Marx Brothers fan wrote on his website. "The wheeler-dealer, skirt-chasing scam artist. In general I was able to relate to them culturally as well. They were immigrant Jews and I was an immigrant Italian."

And Epstein, of course, was a Puerto Rican Jew with anywhere from nine to seven siblings, depending on the episode.

Born in New Jersey, Hegyes went to New York after college, where he performed off-Broadway before landing his breakthrough role on Kotter alongside—you may know him—John Travolta, who played head Sweathog Vinnie Barbarino.

Kotter ran for four seasons from 1975 to 1979. Hegyes appeared on Cagney & Lacey from 1986 to 1988, and continued to work steadily in television. He guest roles on Diagnosis: Murder and NewsRadio, and played himself on Saturday Night Live and The Drew Carey Show.

He later taught writing and public speaking at Brooks College in Long Beach, Calif., and wrote screenplays.

Hegyes, Travolta, Kaplan, Laurence Hilton-Jacobs (Freddie "Boom-Boom" Percy Washington) and Ron Palillo (Horshack) appeared at the TV Land Awards last year to accept the 35th Anniversary Award.

Hegyes, who was divorced at the time of his death, was married three times. His survivors include two children, two step-children and three siblings.