"Welcome Back, Kotter" star Robert Hegyes dies at age 60

(Reuters) - Robert Hegyes, who played the Jewish Puerto Rican wisecracking student Juan Epstein in 1970s comedy "Welcome Back, Kotter," died on Thursday at age 60, a hospital official said.

Paramedics brought Hegyes to John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, from nearby Metuchen, hospital spokesman Steven Weiss said.

Hegyes, who grew up in New Jersey and reportedly had a home in Metuchen, was in cardiac arrest when he arrived and he was pronounced dead at the hospital, Weiss said.

The actor appeared alongside John Travolta and Gabe Kaplan in the high school comedy "Welcome Back, Kotter" from 1975 until 1979. Hegyes' character, Juan Epstein, was short with big hair, and sported a tough demeanor and pride in his Jewish and Puerto Rican heritage.

Hegyes, who was 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.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)


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