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Robert Hegyes


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Actor Robert Hegyes


Actor Robert Hegyes

METUCHEN, New Jersey – Robert Hegyes, an actor whose Jewish-Puerto Rican character, Juan Epstein was one of the Sweathogs on the 1970s TV sitcom, "Welcome Back, Kotter," died Thursday, January 26 of a heart attack in his New Jersey home. He was 60.

Police responded to an emergency call from Hegyes' residence at approximately 9 a.m. He was then transported to JFK Medical Center in nearby Edison, New Jersey. After suffering chest pains at home, Hegyes arrived in full cardiac arrest and died later, confirmed by hospital spokesman Steven Weiss.

A resident of Metuchen, New Jersey, Hegyes had not been in good health for the past two years. According to his brother, Mark Hegyes, the actor had suffered a previous heart attack in recent years.

Hegyes, who had a mop of dark curly hair, was one of the wise-cracking students — with John Travolta, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Ron Palillo — at a Brooklyn high school who were mentored by their teacher, played by Gabe Kaplan. It aired on ABC from 1975 to 1979.

Of Hungarian and Italian descent, Hegyes was born May 7, 1951, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He graduated from what is now Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey and worked as a substitute teacher between acting jobs before landing the part in "Welcome Back, Kotter."


The cast of 'Welcome Back Kotter'

After the show ended, he played Chico Marx onstage in a national touring production of "Groucho" with Kaplan in the title role. Hegyes later had a recurring role as Det. Manny Esposito on the 1980s TV police drama, "Cagney and Lacey." In addition, he guest-starred on shows such as "NewsRadio" and "Diagnosis Murder."

However, Hegyes was best-known for his role as Juan Epstein — full name: Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein — on the 1970s sitcom, "Welcome Back, Kotter." Perpetually scheming and always ready with a self-written note signed "Epstein's Mother" to explain his school absences, Epstein stood out among a group of characters.

Hegyes' co-stars included John Travolta who portrayed the super-cocky womanizer, Vinnie Barabarino and Gabe Kaplan in the role of the hip but beleaguered high-school teacher, Gabe Kotter. Hegyes' last listed acting role was in the 2002 film, "Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool." He also did stand-up comedy and tried writing screenplays.

In a 1995 LA Times interview, Hegyes fondly recalled his days on the set of "Welcome Back, Kotter." "It's a job where I went to work and laughed every day. So how do you beat that?"

Hegyes is survived by his two children, Cassie and Mack, and two step-children, Sophia and Alex.

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