Best known as Dr. Johnny Fever on the hit sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati" and Charlie Moore on "Head of the Class," the venerated comedian picked up two Emmy nominations for his sitcom work.
Howard Hesseman, nominated for an Emmy twice for his work on one of the most cherished and beloved sitcoms of all time, has died from complications from colon surgery he had last summer, per The Hollywood Reporter. He was 81.
Despite only running for four seasons from 1978-82, "WKRP in Cincinnati" became a touchstone of American comedy, and no one personified its counter-culture power more than Dr. Johnny Fever, brought to indelible life by Howard Hesseman. In many ways, Hesseman was Dr. Johnny Fever.
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For an entire generation of fans, Hesseman made working in radio looking infinitely cooler than the reality often is, and still serves as an inspiration for so many who've made that industry their career.
In fact, so ingrained was he with that character, that it was a little jarring for fans when the versatile actor and comedian gave another four years as the compassionate, thoughtful and intellectual Charlie Moore on "Head of the Class," starting just four years later in 1986.
Hesseman took his counter-culture status in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a stage well-suited for all of it, hosting "Saturday Night Live" on three different occasions. He was one of those hosts beloved by the cast who seemed to mesh almost seamlessly into the comedic chaos, with one of his most memorable moments coming when he invited the viewing audience to moon the president.
O.G. cast-member Laraine Newman was one of the first to pay tribute to Hesseman after his passing, tweeting memories of times they shared together. Fellow "SNL" alum Michael McKean, who worked with Hesseman on "This Is Spinal Tap," honored his long-time friend while acknowledging his outsized footprint in the world of improvisation.
You can check out these and more tributes from fans and even radio professionals to the comic icon below.
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RIP Howard Hessman. What great times we had. Great laughs and fun going to see Etta James in Manhattan Beach and Joe Tex at The Parisian Room. Staying at your beautiful house in Ramatuellle. Oh god this hurts.— Laraine Newman (@larainenewman) January 30, 2022 @larainenewman
Howard’s character in Spinal Tap didn’t even exist until 24 hours before the shoot: we’d discovered that the musician we’d hired to play Duke Fame couldn’t improvise, so Rob said let’s give him a manager. I’ll call Howard. He blitzed it, of course. 2/3— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) January 30, 2022 @MJMcKean
We always made each other laugh. Remember? #RIPHowardHesseman https://t.co/adeIoBIebl— Alan Zweibel (@AlanZweibel) January 30, 2022 @AlanZweibel
We all love him for WKRP but Howard Hesseman was also one of the original practitioners of the counter cultural sensibility that is so influential in comedy to this day. And he was on Dragnet! What a great talent, what an amazing career. Rest In Peace.— Frank Conniff (@FrankConniff) January 30, 2022 @FrankConniff
The on-air light just went out on WKRP.— Rock 95 (@Rock95Barrie) January 30, 2022 @Rock95Barrie
Howard Hesseman, also known as Dr. Johnny Fever, passed away due to surgical complications at the age of 81.
Johnny Fever is the reason a lot of us got into this industry, and we continue to be inspired by WKRP to this day. pic.twitter.com/OMaIpt1gXX
RIP, #howardhesseman -aka Dr. Johnny Fever. Weird, I’ve been listening to a lot of #WKRP podcasts lately, and it’s clear what an amazing performer Hessman was, and how much improv he brought to that part. Probably the reason I became a DJ at @KWUR @WUSTL https://t.co/UORvpwzjYS— Dan Mirvish (@DanMirvish) January 30, 2022 @DanMirvish
Every radio guy wanted to be Dr. Johnny Fever. Especially guys associated with Cincinnati radio.— Redlegs Radio Report (@RedlegsRadioRep) January 30, 2022 @RedlegsRadioRep
He was also “Head of the Class.”
Rest easy Howard Hesseman. Thank you for letting radio guys say “booger” on the air. pic.twitter.com/J5xqK7a75V
As a teenager he made radio look like a cool job and he was right! Thanks Howard for everything including creating the character that was Johnny Fever. RIP Howard Hesseman. Living on the Air! Tyler https://t.co/vA79ZGlK6y— Todd N Tyler (@tntradioempire) January 30, 2022 @tntradioempire
Rest easy, Heavy Early. Or Johnny Fever, Johnny Cool, Johnny Midnight. The absolute best radio character in TV history. Howard Hesseman made us all laugh and cry, often at the same time. RIP. pic.twitter.com/KbNZPVLmED— John Derringer (@JohnDerringer) January 30, 2022 @JohnDerringer
RIP Howard Hesseman. Miss you, Dr. Johnny… pic.twitter.com/ieMsC2GBar— Bronze Age Babies (@BronzeAgeBabies) January 30, 2022 @BronzeAgeBabies