Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein on ’70s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died Thursday, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports. Hegyes, who died of an apparent heart attack after suffering chest pains at his Metuchen, New Jersey home, was 60.
Hegyes had not been in good health for the past two years, his brother Mark Hegyes told the paper. The actor had suffered a previous heart attack in recent years.
Police responded to an emergency call from Hegyes’ home at approximately 9 a.m. He was transported to JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, but at that point he had gone into full cardiac arrest.
Though Hegyes also starred on the detective series “Cagney & Lacey” (as Det. Manny Esposito) and, in later years, guest-starred on shows such as “NewsRadio” and “Diagnosis Murder,” 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” from 1975 to 1979. 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 that included the super-cocky womanizer Vinnie Barabarino (played by a young John Travolta) and hip but beleaguered high-school teacher Gabe Kotter (played by Gabe Kaplan).
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Hegyes’ last listed acting role on IMDB is in the film “Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool” in 2002. He also appeared with most of the original “Kotter” cast members for a reunion at the TV Land Awards last year, as a commemoration for the series’ 35th anniversary.
The actor, born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, leaves behind a two children, Cassie and Mack, and two step-children, Sophia and Alex.