Howard Hesseman

Active - 1971 - 2016  |   Born - Feb 27, 1940 in Lebanon, Oregon, United States  |   Died - Jan 29, 2022   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Howard Hesseman's early credits have sometimes been hard to trace, mainly because he often billed himself as "Don Sturdy." The mustachioed, prematurely balding Hesseman was a founding member of the San Francisco-based improv troupe The Committee. During his decade-long tenure with this aggregation, he was featured in such films as Petulia (1968) and A Session with the Committee (1970), and showed up on such TV series as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Dick Cavett Show. Through the auspices of his Committee cohort Peter Bonerz, Hesseman played a recurring role on TV's The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), playing the unsuccessful producer of such TV disasters as "The Nazi Hour." His screen roles in the 1970s included a showy part as a harried TV-commercial director in the opening sequence of The Sunshine Boys. In 1978, Hesseman achieved celebrity in the role of counterculture deejay Dr. Johnny Fever (aka Johnny Caravella) on the popular sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Following WKRP's cancellation in 1982, he spent two seasons playing Ann Romano's third (and presumably final) husband Sam Royer on the weekly One Day at a Time. From 1986 to 1990, he starred as urbane high school teacher Charlie Moore in TV's Head of the Class. During all this activity, Howard Hesseman continued showing up in feature films, playing such roles as smarmy promoter Terry Ladd in This is Spinal Tap (1984) and child star Patty Duke's manipulative manager/guardian John Ross in the TV biopic Call Me Anna (1989). Over the following several years, Hessman would remain active on screen, appearnig on shows like That 70's Show and Crossing Jordan, and in movies like The Rocker.

Movie Highlights

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  • Was introduced to acting by his uncle, and noted that each performance he gave was "like repaying him a debt."
  • Worked under the stage name Don Sturdy in the early days of his career.
  • Performed with the improv group the Committee in the late 1960s and early '70s, along with Rob Reiner and The Bob Newhart Show's Peter Bonerz.
  • Portrayal of drama teacher Howard Johnson in the movie Billy Jack (1971) is considered by many to be his break-out role.
  • Worked as a disc jockey at San Francisco's underground radio station KMPX several years prior to his role as the anti-disco DJ Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati.
  • In keeping with his counterculture image, guest starred in NBC's ER in 2007 as a man under the psychedelic influence of magic mushrooms.