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'Welcome Back, Kotter': Robert Hegyes and cohorts [video]

January 27, 2012 | 10:41 am
John Travolta and Robert Hegyes at the TV Land Awards. Hegyes has died at 60."Welcome Back, Kotter" star Robert Hegyes, who died this week of a heart attack at age 60, reunited less than a year ago with his fellow Sweathogs at the TV Land Awards (watch a clip from the show below.)

For viewers of a certain age, the boys of fictional James Buchanan High still had that ensemble spark that made them so popular during the run of the 1970s series.

We know the break-out star from that series: John Travolta -- "Pulp Fiction," Primary Colors," "Grease," "Saturday Night Fever," and the list goes on.  But what became of the core under-achieving students of Mr. Kotter and the teacher himself?

PHOTOS: 'Welcome Back, Kotter': Where are they now?

The later pursuits of Gabe Kaplan (Mr. Kotter) may seem at odds -- financial advisor and professional poker player. In 2007, Kaplan appeared in "The Grand," summed up on as "an improvisational comedy using a handful of actors playing characters competing in an actual poker tournament." It starred Woody Harrelson.

Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Freddie Boom-Boom Washington) made appearances last year in the BET series "Let's Stay Together" as the father of main character Charles and had a macabre role as Mandingo in the 2007 horror movie "Sublime."

Ron Palillo (Arnold Horshack) went on to act on Broadway before returning to the classroom, believe it or not, as a high school teacher. He's among faculty at the G-Star School of the Arts, a high school for TV production and acting in Palm Beach, Fla. In 2009, the Associated Press noted that Palillo's students were too young to appreciate his 1970s fame. But one mom said she was in shock and exclaimed to her daughter: "Horshack! Horshack's your teacher?"

Robert Hegyes, who died Thursday in New Jersey, played Juan Epstein, the pint-sized Sweathog with Chico Marx undertones. And he continued in that vein after the show ended (it aired from 1975-79), playing the Marx brother onstage in a national touring production of "Groucho." In the title role: Gabe Kaplan.

He went on to play Det. Manny Esposito on the 1980s TV show "Cagney and Lacey" and made guest-star appearances in dozens of shows over the years, including  "Saturday Night Live," "The Drew Carey Show" and "News Radio."

"It's a job where I went to work and laughed every day," he told The Times in 1995. "So how do you beat that?"


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Photo: Robert Hegyes, left, and John Travolta accept the 35th Anniversary Award for "Welcome Back, Kotter" onstage at the 9th Annual TV Land Awards at the Javits Center in New York City on April 10, 2011. Credit: Larry Busacca / Getty Images