Some absolutely devastating news has come out this morning for sitcom fans everywhere: Howard Hesseman has died at the age of 81.
There are few sitcoms of the past several decades we can think of that were as consistently funny as WKRP in Cincinnati. We would argue that the show, about a middling radio station and the quirky people who worked there, would go on to, whether it be directly or indirectly, inspire shows down the road like The Office or Parks and Recreation. Hesseman played one of the strongest characters in the entire ensemble, as well, in disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever. his distinctive look, shades, and demeanor allowed him to become almost his generation’s The Fonz, someone who was adored and quoted for years on end. He’s also got important roles in several of the show’s most iconic episodes — the Carp mascot battle is an instant classic, and the Thanksgiving Special with the turkeys is an annual tradition.
In a statement (per TVLine), Howard’s manager Robbie Kass confirmed the news of his passing with the following statement:
“He was a groundbreaking talent and lifelong friend and client whose kindness and generosity was equaled by his influence and admiration to generations of actors and improvisational comedy throughout the world. He will be sorely missed and always treasured!”
Kass also confirmed that Hesseman died following complications from a colon surgery.
Beyond his famed role as Dr. Johnny Fever (which he went on to reprise on The New WKRP in Cincinnati), Hesseman was also known for his longtime role as Charlie Mason on Head of the Class, which he played for almost 100 episodes. He also had roles on a number of contemporary series, whether it be Psych, House, or Fresh Off the Boat. His work was so iconic in the late seventies/early eighties that it was likely a thrill for producers who grew up at that time to work with him. He seemed to understand his claim to fame and had fun with it over the years. We know it can be hard to be defined by a singular role.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to Hesseman’s family and all who loved him during this difficult time.