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 of a heart attack in New Jersey. He was 60.
A resident of Metuchen, N.J., Hegyes arrived at JFK Medical Center in nearby Edison in full cardiac arrest and died there, hospital spokesman Steven Weiss confirmed.
Hegyes, who had a mop of dark curly hair, played Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein on "Welcome Back, Kotter," which also starred John Travolta, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Ron Palillo as wise-cracking students 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, N.J. He graduated from what is now Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., and worked as a substitute teacher between acting jobs before landing the part in "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 part as Detective Manny Esposito on the 1980s TV police drama "Cagney and Lacey," did stand-up comedy and tried writing screenplays.
But he would be best remembered for "Welcome Back, Kotter."
"It's a job where I went to work and laughed every day," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. "So how do you beat that?"