I was saddened to hear the passing of actor Robert Hegyes today. That name might not be too familiar, but if I say the name "Juan Epstein", that should provoke a few smiles.
I was a huge fan of "Welcome Back, Kotter" in my youth, and the four years of the show coincided with my four years at Brooklyn Tech. The show may have made a star out of John Travolta, but I was always a fan of Mr. Hegyes, who played the half-Puerto Rican, half-Jewish wiseass Juan Epstein.
Mr. Hegyes was 60 years old and died of a sudden heart attack in his home in Edison, New Jersey.
Seems like another part of childhood is gone when I hear the passing of celebrities from my youth.
One of my favorite Juan Epstein lines was when he was asked about his mother. "Oh, so she's Puerto Rican," someone I can't remember once asked him. "No, my father's Puerto Rican. My mother's maiden name is Biberman!"
So, in memory of the Great Juan Epstein, I present the one of the coolest TV themes ever, by John Sebastian:
BTW, did you know that the high school featured in the show's opening was New Utrecht High School? And that the "Brooklyn" sign in the first scene (coming off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge) was stolen so many times that the city ultimately never replaced it?
RIP Mr. Hegyes, and thanks for all the laughs.