Robert Hegyes, the Jersey-born actor who played Jewish Puerto Rican wheeler-dealer Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein on the 1970s classic WELCOME BACK KOTTER, died from an apparent heart attack after suffering chest pains at his Metuchen home this morning. He was 60.
Following KOTTER, Hegyes appeared on CAGNEY & LACEY, then continued to act on television, mostly in guest-starring roles including NEWSRADIO, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and THE DREW CAREY SHOW. He made occasional films, including Bob Roberts with Tim Robbins.
In 1985 he played one of the Vipers (Pete's gang) on DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
A longtime resident of Venice, California, he brought the city to the internet in the web series THE VENICE WALK.
Hegyes also taught at Brooks College of Long Beach and wrote screenplays. Peter Loewy, who runs the Forum Theatre Arts Center in Metuchen, says he planned to work with Hegyes on a one-man show a year or so ago, but Hegyes' health problems -- he needed a hip replacement, among other things -- put it on hold indefinitely. "He was a gentle guy," Loewy remembers. "He had, ironically, a big heart."
Below is a photo from the WELCOME BACK KOTTER reunion at the TV Land Awards in March 2011.