Robert Hegyes, Sweathog
He was the first of the old gang to die.
I think many of us felt, on hearing about the death of Robert Hegyes yesterday, like an old friend had died. Like a friend from school or the neighborhood, Hegyes came to our houses once a week, as Welcome Back, Kotter's Epstein – the short guy with the tall hair and the never-ending excuse notes.
In this 1978 file photo, Robert Hegyes portrays Juan Epstein from the comedy series "Welcome Back Kotter." The actor best known for playing the Jewish Puerto Rican student on the 1970s TV show has died. He was 60. (AP Photo, file)
When the news about Hegyes's death broke, the immediate reaction was so strong – like the way we might react when we hear of the death of a friend we haven't seen in 30 years or so. I added Hegyes's obituary and Guest Book to our site and posted the news on our Facebook page, and within moments I saw Guest Book entries start to pour in, and fond comments and "likes" start to accumulate on our Facebook page. We don't often see such a fast response to the death of a less-well-known celebrity, so what is it about Hegyes and his fellow Sweathogs?
Welcome Back, Kotter is an artifact of an era we're really missing these days. The weirder and harsher our world gets, the more we fondly remember a time (maybe an imagined time, but still one that speaks to us) when what the troubled teens did was steal a taxi cab, break into their teacher's apartment, and… check out his photo album with him.
Kotter's Juan Epstein was known for the excuse notes he presented to his teacher – ostensibly written by his mother and signed "Epstein's Mother," they were clearly written by Epstein himself. That fact became even more obvious when Epstein would lip-synch along with each note, which he knew by heart after composing it, while Kotter read it aloud.
Fans who remembered Hegyes remembered those notes, too. And they composed a few of their own as they signed his Guest Book:
Juan will not be in school today, he has passed away. We will miss him dearly as he has brought joy and laughter into our lives. My favorite sweat-hog!
Juan Epstein's Mother
He was a good actor, all around good guy and best of all a good boy...signed Epsteins mother
Please give Juan a nice spot in heaven. He's a good boy. Signed, Epsteins Mother
One more note, from us:
Juan won't be in school today. He's too busy making us remember… and laugh. Signed, Epstein's mother (and Legacy.com).
Written by Linnea Crowther