Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein in the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter,”died in his New Jersey home today from an apparent heart attack, according to his brother, Mark. Hegyes was 60 years old.
Hegyes character, whose full name was Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein, was on the show from 1975 to 1979. Though his Puerto Rican culture was always prevalent in the many crazy discussions inside Kotter’s classroom, he was best known for presenting a self-written note signed, which was always signed, “Epstein’s Mother,” to explain why he was late or absent from class.
Though Mr. Kotter was always suspicious of Epstein’s notes, he let him off easy, while trying to keep the rest of the class together.
Epstein’s classmates included Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, a tall black basketball player, who used his charm to get what he wanted, Vinnie Barbarino, an Italian playboy who met every question with, “What? Why? Where? Who?” which inevitably drove everyone crazy.
Then there was Arnold Horseshack, whose crazy laugh sent everyone into hysterics and introduced himself as, “Hello, I’m Arnold Horshaaaaaack.” It was one of those shows where every line was predictable, every joke done before, but it was still funny.
This group of rag-tag misfits, known as the “Sweathogs” were not like other high school kids I knew. They were cool before cool was cool. They didn’t care that they were known as the dumb kids in school because they had fun in their crazy class.
I doubt if they could ever do a remake of the show. There’s no way it could be as funny today as it was then. It was just a different time, I guess. When they made the Sweathogs, they broke the mold.
Goodbye, Robert. You really were “Juan in a million.”