Robert Hegyes (pronounced Hedges) (May 7, 1951 – January 26, 2012) was an American actor best known for his portrayal of high school student Juan Epstein on the 1970s American sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.
Within a year of graduating from college, Hegyes was cast to co-star in the highly acclaimed Off Broadway drama, Naomi Court, starring actor Brad Davis (Midnight Express). After completing the successful Manhattan Theater Club engagement, Robert was cast by Tony Award- winning actor Len Cariou (making his directing debut) to co-star in the Broadway drama, Don’t Call Back, starring Arlene Francis and Dorian Harewood. While performing on Broadway, Hegyes auditioned for television producer James Komack and was cast to star in what was to become the award-winning ABC comedy, Welcome Back, Kotter. Hegyes portrayed the character of Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein (typically referred to as simply “Epstein”). The show lasted four seasons, from 1975 to 1979. Hegyes became one of the show’s directors at age 25.
After Welcome Back Kotter
Hegyes guest starred in more than thirty television shows, including Saturday Night Live with Quentin Tarantino, NewsRadio, Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke, The Drew Carey Show (in an April Fools’ Day episode where the character Oswald was recast for a brief scene with Hegyes playing the role) and The Streets of San Francisco with Michael Douglas. He also appeared in the award-winning Volkswagen Passat commercial “The Chase” for director Kinka Usher. Hegyes appeared in Honeymoon Hotel with Jane Kaczmarek, Underground Aces with Melanie Griffith and Dirk Benedict, Bob Roberts with Tim Robbins, The Purpose with Mia Farrow, and Bar Hopping with Kevin Nealon.
Hegyes made his Los Angeles stage debut as “Chico Marx” in the Westwood and national touring company engagements of An Evening with Groucho. Upon returning from the tour, Hegyes was cast by producer Barney Rosenswieg to star as a series regular portraying undercover detective “Manny Esposito” in Cagney & Lacey. During this time he also appeared on the game show the $25,000 Pyramid from time to time.
Hegyes became “Artist-In-Residence” at his alma mater, Rowan University, teaching screenplay writing, acting for camera and public speaking, and was a guest lecturer in the Radio/Television/Film & Theater Departments. He was an adjunct instructor at Brooks College in Long Beach, California, where he taught essay writing and public speaking. Hegyes was a California Certified Secondary Education teacher, but had worked infrequently in recent years.
After suffering from chest pains at his Metuchen, New Jersey home, Hegyes died from an apparent heart attack at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey. He was 60 years old.