"Brother Epstein, huh? I can see the headlines: 'Puerto Rican Jew enters monastery, becomes the first 'Schlamonk."'
January 26, 2012 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Dear Mr. Kotter,
Please excuse Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo DeHuevos Epstein from class. He has an appointment in heaven.
Signed,
Epstein's Mother

Mr. Hegyes passed away today of a heart attack at age 60. His official site. Wikipedia on Mr. Hegyes and the Epstein character. IMDB

Additional obituaries: People Magazine. E! Online and MSNBC.

Hegyes and nearly all of the original cast members reunited last year at the TV Land Awards to recognize the show's 35th anniversary. (Video.) Good Morning America also featured the cast for the occasion, with a Where are they now? slideshow (Hegyes is slide 7,) and get-together segment. (Alternate YouTube link)

Last year, the podcast Just My Show interviewed him about his role on Welcome Back, Kotter. (Here's a youtube link, but audio only.)

Hegyes "taught writing and public speaking at Brooks College in Long Beach, Calif., and wrote screenplays" He was divorced at the time of his death and had been married three times. His survivors include two children, two step-children and three siblings.'

There are various clips of his work and television appearances on YouTube, including several from Welcome Back, Kotter; a guest-star appearance on Newsradio; a Love Boat episode where he starred alongside The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick; an appearance on The $25,000 Pyramid (1988), and a tug of war on Battle of the Network Stars (1976). He also starred in an award-winning Volkswagen Passat commercial called "The Chase." A few more can be seen at his official site.

Finally, iTunes and Amazon offer full episodes of Welcome Back, Kotter for purchase.
posted by zarq (88 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by cazoo at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2012


What?!

*sniff* WBK was brilliant in its first three years, until they ruined it.

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posted by Melismata at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


So sad. So young. This post is incredible though, zarq. Thank you.
posted by sweetkid at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 7:24 PM on January 26, 2012


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My favorite Sweathog. While the others were one-dimensional ethnic stereotypes, Juan Epstein got to be two.

Hollywood Blogger Mark Evanier (who wrote for the show) has a few words.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 7:30 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Damn. I grew up watching and loving that show. RIP (with a note from your mother of course).
posted by jonmc at 7:31 PM on January 26, 2012


Up your nose to heaven with a rubber hose, Epstein!
posted by PapaLobo at 7:35 PM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


owh owh owh.... crap
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posted by mrgroweler at 7:36 PM on January 26, 2012


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posted by Trurl at 7:38 PM on January 26, 2012


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I enjoyed that show so much when I was younger.
posted by dragonplayer at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I've met several people of Hispanic/Jewish heritage over the years*, and almost all of them made some remark refferring to themselves as 'Juan Epstiens.' A small cultural imprint, maybe, but one that'll last.

(including a cute girl I met in 1989 named Rosita Levy. She was cool.)
posted by jonmc at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Now I feel old. I watched this show in it's original runs. It was one of the three channels that came in (PBS signal sucked).
posted by cjorgensen at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hated the show, actually, but even as a little twerp these students seemed a little more real than most of the teens on TV.

. for "ethnics" who were still people
posted by wenestvedt at 7:42 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And I mean that sincerely.)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


A special message to my fans...
posted by cjorgensen at 7:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:44 PM on January 26, 2012


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posted by Joey Michaels at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2012


*cries*
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:54 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved this show. I'm glad I had the chance to see it in its original runs. When my family first moved to the States when I was a kid, my love for this and many other sitcoms in the '70s taught me and motivated me to learn English. I still remember having a bit of trouble with this and Taxi because the characters spoke heavily accented (to me) English. I'm sad to hear one of the Sweathogs has passed.
posted by misozaki at 8:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by Ironmouth at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2012


Oh. Man. Another bit of my misspent youth gone. Thanks for the really wonderful framing of this post. I am surprisingly disturbed by his death. I don't know why, perhaps because it played such a large cultural spot in growing up. Everyone I knew watched that show, it was the most subversive thing the kids in my Catholic elementary school got to see on a regular basis. My neighbourhood was that strange Florida conglomeration of immigrants, Arabs, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Jews, and everyone went to Catholic school, even the Jews. The Juan character was the one everyone could agree about, he was universally loved. I'm pretty sure he may have been my first tv crush.

60 seems so young...but perhaps because I will always remember his adorable face, that angelic mop of hair, and those tight, tight, bellbottoms that lit up this schoolgirl's heart once a week, once upon a time.
posted by dejah420 at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Aw. I suppose this is the place to reveal that my secret, as yet unused, sockpuppet name was always going to be "Juan Epstein's Mutha."
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by random thoughts at 8:05 PM on January 26, 2012


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posted by cgk at 8:06 PM on January 26, 2012


I'm sure he has a note from his mother...

R.I.P. touchstone of my youth.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 8:12 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


We cannot be of an age where the Sweathogs are dying of old age. This is unpossible.

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posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2012 [20 favorites]


Oh, that's too bad.
When I was a kid watching that show in the 70's I thought that's what teenagers were really like.
posted by chococat at 8:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was home sick from school, my dad used to give me two excuse notes to take back to school the next day. One was the real note, the other was a joke note. That one was always signed "Epstein's Mother."

For example: "Please excuse my daughter's absence from school yesterday. She had to perform brain surgery on Billy Carter. Signed, Epstein's Mother."

Ah, the 70s.

Sigh.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [34 favorites]


Thank you once again, MetaFilter, for reminding me of my own mortality...

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posted by Samizdata at 8:25 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's hard to explain the level of popularity of this show to people that weren't there and in the demographic strike zone. There were lunchboxes! And I wanted one! DUDE. With only a handful of channels, when the sun shined on you, it shined bright.

happy trails, robert
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:27 PM on January 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


We tease him a lot but we've got him on the spot....

It took me many years to realize what a brilliant show this was, and what a brilliant characters they were.

I won't put a dot. Silence? I can't be silent. Goddamn, Epstien's Mother's Son, I'll miss you.

And thank you for all the laughs, all the joy -- thank you for everything.
posted by eriko at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Juan Epstein was one of those rare characters that broke out of its TV stereotype. Only true talent achieves that.
posted by Ardiril at 8:32 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Not The Stig at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2012


zarq, I so wanted you to be a fucking liar as I glanced over your post and realized what it meant. Great fucking show, great fucking character.
posted by Roman Graves at 8:39 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:39 PM on January 26, 2012


I will always remember Epstein's croaking laugh.


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posted by never used baby shoes at 8:41 PM on January 26, 2012


Or was that Horshack?

My mind is all messed up now. So sad.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:43 PM on January 26, 2012


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posted by ZeusHumms at 8:48 PM on January 26, 2012


That was Horshack. It's a very old and respected name. It means, "The cows are dying."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:50 PM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


[fixed the typo, carry on]
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


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Well, that sucks. RIP, Mr. Hegyes, and thanks for making me laugh when I was in my early teens; 60 is way too young to die.
posted by mosk at 8:55 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, in that TV Land skit, Gabe Kaplan looks like a wax Muammar Gaddafi.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:07 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though it's sad that this guy died so young, Welcome Back Kotter was an awful television show. Crappy stereotypes, moronic jokes. I can't believe that counted as entertainment.
posted by crunchland at 9:08 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a photo of me wearing a Sweathogs hoodie, taken in 1975.

RIP and thanks for the laughs.
posted by davebush at 9:08 PM on January 26, 2012


On his website, Hegyes wrote that he modeled the swaggering, skirt-chasing Epstein after Chico Marx...

I can't say I ever noticed it at the time, but yeah... I can see that now. RIP Epstein.
posted by rocket88 at 9:13 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Roman Graves: "zarq, I so wanted you to be a fucking liar as I glanced over your post and realized what it meant."

Me too.

dejah420 and sweetkid, thanks. And thank you, Jessamyn.

I only just found out about this... the first episode of Welcome Back, Kotter can be seen on DailyMotion: Parts 1, 2 and 3. (The link under "Welcome" in the post is most of Part 3.)
posted by zarq at 9:13 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a very old and respected name. It means, "The cows are dying."

I think the actual phrase was "the cattle are dying", which is somehow a little bit funnier. I'm not sure why but it is.
posted by scalefree at 9:16 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also yes, props on the best obit post I can remember.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:17 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


.

Heaven needs the laughter.
posted by driley at 9:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I only just found out about this... the first episode of Welcome Back, Kotter can be seen on DailyMotion

James Woods!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:08 PM on January 26, 2012


Crappy stereotypes, moronic jokes.

Ah, yes, that old stereotype of the Puerto Rican Jew. Such a cliché.

Really?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 PM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


It was the Best. School. Show. Ever. I really loved Epstein and his adorable curly hair. :(. too damn young. My neighbor told me this morning.
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posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:31 PM on January 26, 2012


Though it's sad that this guy died so young, Welcome Back Kotter was an awful television show. Crappy stereotypes, moronic jokes. I can't believe that counted as entertainment.
posted by crunchland


I agree.

I was a teen when Welcome Back Kotter was having its run. I went from being amused by it as a younger teen to HATING it as an older teen by which point it did nothing but play relentlessly to everything I despised about the morons I was stuck with in my high school's hallowed f***ing halls. And it sucked.

But that was a long, long time ago. Godspeed Mr. Hegyes. You made some kind of mark.



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posted by philip-random at 10:36 PM on January 26, 2012


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posted by SisterHavana at 10:46 PM on January 26, 2012


Okay, so WBK was no Louie or Breaking Bad, but it was relaxing fun, I remember it fondly and still nostalgically watch it sometimes. I had the WBK board game. This sucks.

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posted by mreleganza at 11:44 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by lapolla at 12:13 AM on January 27, 2012


I loved Epstein. Regardless of the quality of the show - I don't think Good Times, Alice or The Rockford Files would stand much scrutiny either - he stood out as such a creative, likeable guy, the only Sweathog I could imagine myself hanging out with. This is a damn shame.

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posted by Chichibio at 1:06 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was perfect, zarq. Thank you.
posted by merelyglib at 2:20 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Very sad, very sad.

For kids at the time, that show wasn't just a TV show. It was the must watch, and memorize every gag, TV show. The marching orders for a million pre-pubescent class clowns.

In that rarefied air of Wiesenhiemer-hood: Epstein was a GIANT.

Good bye, Epstein, you were one of the greats.

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N-thing the shout out to TAXI as well. Between WBK and Taxi, the 70s almost did not totally suck. Almost.
posted by Skygazer at 3:30 AM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Darn. Kotter was huge when I was in sixth grade and supplied a lot our recess lingo.

Watching some of the clips, I'm surprised that the show holds up pretty well. The comic timing is really sharp and the performances are charming. I love the Kotter's apartment, seriously over the top seventies with the mod stripes on the wall.
posted by octothorpe at 4:17 AM on January 27, 2012


??
He was a big fan of the Marx Brothers: "They were immigrant Jews, and I was an immigrant Italian.
. . .
Hegyes, whose father was Hungarian-American and whose mother was Italian-American, was born in Perth Amboy and grew up in Metuchen.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:40 AM on January 27, 2012


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Though I'd like to strangle the screenwriter who first incorrectly pronounced Epstein....the proper way is with a long I, NOT a long E. One doesn't say EENSTEEN.
posted by brujita at 4:42 AM on January 27, 2012


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posted by tommasz at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2012


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posted by pointystick at 5:27 AM on January 27, 2012


I don't think Good Times, Alice or The Rockford Files would stand much scrutiny either

Nothing stands thirty or forty years of cultural perspective. The hip current shows people are comparing 70s sitcoms to will look foolish and naive and bigoted and mostly unfunny to our grandchildren as well. Times change.

That said, om mani padme hum, and thanks for the long-ago laughs, Robert.
posted by aught at 5:31 AM on January 27, 2012


Though I'd like to strangle the screenwriter who first incorrectly pronounced Epstein....the proper way is with a long I, NOT a long E. One doesn't say EENSTEEN.

But isn't Frankenstein pronounced Frankensteen?

Like many in here Mr. Hegyes passing makes me feel old (also, getting older makes me feel old) It's hard to believe it has been nearly 40 years since I was watching Welcome Back Kotter. It looks like in addition to creating a memorable character he was able to continue to act (even if he wasn't as well known as that guy who played Barbarino); I am glad to see that.

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posted by TedW at 5:47 AM on January 27, 2012


Aww. Glad to see he went into teaching.

I never got why my parents (born and raised in working-class NY/NJ) thought the name "Juan Epstein" was so funny...since they moved us to rural PA when I was 5, and the only cultural diversity I saw were the two Jehovah's Witness girls who weren't allowed to go to birthday parties.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:08 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, my wife teaches at a public high school in the Bronx and occasionally refers to her remedial class as her Sweathogs.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though I'd like to strangle the screenwriter who first incorrectly pronounced Epstein....the proper way is with a long I, NOT a long E. One doesn't say EENSTEEN.

But isn't Frankenstein pronounced Frankensteen?


Also, while I don't know how the man himself says it, but I never hear former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president Theo Epstein pronounced as Ep-Stine.
posted by mreleganza at 6:30 AM on January 27, 2012


No, WBK wasn't exactly Masterpiece Theater. But considering its subject matter -- highschool kids -- what else at the time was? Was "The White Shadow" that much better? Or, uh…..the schoolhouse scenes in "Little House on the Prairie" (OK, I'll allow it for an accurate depiction of Nelly Olson's bullying) or "Eight is Enough"?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:51 AM on January 27, 2012


Wow. This one hit me. As the minority-that-doesn't-count-as-a-minority, we were always aware of Jews on TV - and it didn't go unnoticed how few Jewish actors actually played Jewish characters. This show had a special place for us because it was so unabashedly Jewish - the Yiddish jokes at the opening and closing, Gabe Kaplan's delivery and character, and especially Epstein.

Great obit post.
posted by Mchelly at 7:11 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by jquinby at 7:19 AM on January 27, 2012


Thank you so much, Mr. Hegyes. I loved WBK as a kid.


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posted by magstheaxe at 7:39 AM on January 27, 2012


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posted by tr33hggr at 7:51 AM on January 27, 2012


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posted by Smart Dalek at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2012


Speaking of Welcome Back, Kotter, a gay guy I know said he was in a bar once and the guy who played Horshak wouldn't stop hitting on him. Oooh Oooh, indeed.
posted by jonmc at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2012


The show seems full of cliches and stereotypes because in the 30-plus years since its run it has been thoroughly ransacked. When it first played, it, and Gabe Kaplan's stand-up that inspired it, was no more cliched or stereotypes than any memory, which is what the show was: it was based on Kaplan's memories of attending, and being a bit of a fuckup, at New Ultrecht High School in Brooklyn. By the way, both Moe and Curly Howard attended this same school.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And it also just seems so ... quaint. They really were delinquents? They seemed to talk about doing awful things like disabling the fire alarm system, but then they'd go affectionately visit their teacher and run the school radio station. (I think there was one episode about Horshack getting hooked on amphetamines, but it was neatly resolved by the end of the episode, typical for shows of that time.) If they were to have a show today about "high school delinquents," it would be about policemen doing searches in the hallway and gay bashing.

Poor Ron Palillo, he was never able to escape that typecasting (though he seems to be successful in all his other projects).
posted by Melismata at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nooooooooooooooooo!

*weeps*
posted by blurker at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2012


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posted by Splunge at 12:01 PM on January 27, 2012


For those of you who didn't know and haven't guessed, my last name is Epstein and I was in grade school in the 70's. I got WAY too much of "Hey EpSTEEN!" and Brujita Frankenstein at the time. The only place I get it pronounced correctly is Europe.
posted by brujita at 1:26 PM on January 27, 2012


He was featured in Dynamite magazine when I was in 3rd grade, I think. The interview printed an address to which you could write to him, so I did. I got back a printed autographed card. While not a real autograph, I still appreciated it and put it on my bulletin board next to the shrinky dink of the farting frog with the caption, "America needs gas. Eat more beans."
posted by plinth at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to see them make the show, "Welcome Back, Epstein". You can infer the whole premise from the title.
posted by jefftang at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


...attending, and being a bit of a fuckup, at New Ultrecht High School in Brooklyn.

Another alum of New Ultrecht? John Saxon, who is probably the only actor who worked with Dario Argento, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Bruce Lee...and Joe Don Baker in "Mitchell."

</endtangent>
posted by stannate at 3:11 PM on January 27, 2012


Nothing stands thirty or forty years of cultural perspective. The hip current shows people are comparing 70s sitcoms to will look foolish and naive and bigoted and mostly unfunny to our grandchildren as well. Times change.

The point is, Welcome Back Cotter was sophomoric sh** at the time, appealing to middle-school mindsets at best. Or more to the point, the older teens/adults that dug it were NOT the kind of people you'd want to hang with: bullies, bigots, assholes etc. At least that was my experience of it -- Canadian high school, mid-70s.
posted by philip-random at 5:03 PM on January 27, 2012


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posted by luckynerd at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2012


Am sad.

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Hey, what ever happened to Barbarino?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


clavdivs made a MetaTalk post asking the question "If you could dress-up as a television character for halloween who would it be?"; I'm sure you can guess my response.
posted by Chichibio at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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