*Robert Hegyes, who played the wisecracking “Puerto Rican Jew” in the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died Thursday after suffering apparent heart failure at his Metuchen, New Jersey home, hospital officials said. He was 60.
Paramedics brought Hegyes to John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, from nearby Metuchen, hospital spokesman Steven Weiss said. He was in cardiac arrest when he arrived and was pronounced dead at the hospital, Weiss said, according to the AP.
Hegyes played Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein, one of the Sweathogs on the immortal New York high school comedy. Hegyes’ character was short with a huge afro, and sported a tough demeanor and pride in his Jewish and Puerto Rican heritage. He appeared alongside co-stars Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, John Travolta and Gabe Kaplan from 1975 until 1979.
Hegyes, actually of Italian and Hungarian descent, said on his website that he modeled his character Epstein on Chico Marx, of the famous Marx Brothers.
After “Welcome Back, Kotter,” he went on to have a recurring role as Detective Manny Esposito in the 1980s police series “Cagney & Lacey.” In all, Hegyes had over 20 television and film acting credits during his career, and was also active in theater.