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Home / Duke Fame

‘WKRP’ cast member Howard Hessman dies at 81

Howard Hessman, who received two Emmy nominations for his portrayal of disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever on “WKRP in Cincinnati” and later starred in the ABC classroom comedy “Head of the Class,” has died, his wife said Sunday.

Hessman died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications from colon surgery last summer, his wife, Caroline Ducrocq, told The New York Times. He was 81.

Hessman received outstanding supporting actor in a comedy or variety or music series Emmy nominations in 1980 and 1981 for his work on the CBS comedy that ran from 1978-82.

Hessman played history teacher Charlie Moore on the ABC comedy “Head of the Class” from 1986-90.

Born in Lebanon, Oregon on Feb. 27, 1940, Hessman was later a founding member of the San Francisco-based improvisational comedy troupe The Committee with future “M.A.S.H.” cast member David Ogden Stiers.

“Impossible to overstate Howard Hesseman’s influence on his and subsequent generations of improvisors,” Michael McKean, who appeared with Hessman in the 1984 mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap,” tweeted Sunday.

“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.”

Hessman’s character in “This Is Spinal Tap” “didn’t even exist until 24 hours before the shoot,” McKean tweeted.

“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,” McKean tweeted, referring to director Rob Reiner. “I’ll call Howard. He blitzed it, of course.”

Following a stint as a disc jockey at the San Francisco station KMPX- FM, now KFRC, Hessman moved to Los Angeles to begin an acting career, with early roles on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Dragnet.”

Between “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Head of the Class,” Hessman had a recurring role on the CBS comedy “One Day at a Time” as the eventual second husband of Ann Romano played by Bonnie Franklin.

Hessman’s other television credits included a recurring role on “The Bob Newhart Show,” and appearances on “Rhoda,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “That ’70s Show” and “ER.”  He also hosted “Saturday Night Live” three times.

Hessman’s other film credits included “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment,” “Flight of the Navigator,” “Billy Jack,” “Shampoo,” “Silent Movie” and “The Sunshine Boys.”

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