Actor John Hillerman died Thursday in Houston, at the age of 84. Hillerman played the caretaker on the 1980s detective show ‘Magnum, P.I.’ He also appeared in several landmark 1970s films,
Following Hillerman’s requests, no services will be held. He’s survived by his sister and nephews and nieces.
Hillerman will always be remembered for his classic role
John Hillerman, who had been struggling with his declining health, died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Houston. The sad news was confirmed by his nephew Chris Tritico, who also said Hillerman requested no services to be held.
Hillerman became a fixture for his role in the show ‘Magnum P.I.’ Where he played the stuffed-shirt Higgins to Tom Selleck’s freewheeling detective Thomas Magnum, “He had an outstanding sense of humor and was one of the most well-read people I ever met. You couldn’t play Scrabble with him,” Tritico said.
“He was a good man who loved his family, acting and reading. Our family will miss him.” Hillerman decided to retire about 17 years ago, and went back to his native Texas, where he lived a calm life along with his family.
Hillerman’s last credits included 1996’s ‘A Very Brady Sequel’ and an early ’90s appearance on ‘Murder, She Wrote.’
John’s leap into the Hollywood scenery
John Hillerman was born in 1932, in Denison, Texas. He majored in journalism at the University of Texas and achieved the rank of sergeant during his time at the Air Force. It was during this time that he first experienced acting by joining a barracks theatre group and after he was discharged in 1957.
He then moved to New York to study and perform as he pursued a career in acting. Hillerman appeared in dozens of stage shows over the following decade and moved to Hollywood in 1969 in search of a breakthrough role.
Hillerman first made an impression as arrogant radio show detective Simon Brimmer on the NBC 1975 revival of ‘Ellery Queen.’
From that moment on, he took on notable roles as the boss of Bonnie Franklin on the CBS longrunning sitcom ‘One Day at a Time.’ Followed by the short-lived sitcom ‘The Betty White Show’ in 1977, where he traded sarcastic quips with Betty White. He also appeared in shows such as ‘Valerie’ and ‘The Love Boat,’ before jumping to the big screen.
Hillerman made his film debut in Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show’ and went on to appear in three more films for the director, ‘What’s Up, Doc?,’ ‘Paper Moon’ in which he played twins, a sheriff and a bootlegger, and ‘At Long Last Love,’ as Burt Reynolds’ valet.
He also landed other roles in films, including notable films such as Clint Eastwood’s ‘High Plains Drifter,’ Mel Brooks’ ‘Blazing Saddles,’ Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown,’ and Stanley Donen’s ‘Lucky Lady.’
Landing his breakthrough role
While being cast in several films and shows, his breakthrough and most memorable role came in Magnum P.I.’ Where he landed the part of ex-British Army Sergeant Major Higgins, a snooty butler who acted as a perfect foil to flash Magnum.
His English accent was convincing enough to lead many fans to believe he was British. But John had actually trained himself by listening to recordings of Lawrence Olivier and reciting Hamlet. On the show, he was the antithesis of Thomas Magnum, playing a grumpy, stiff and self-righteous right-hand man to the relaxed and overconfident detective.
‘Magnum P.I.’ consistently ranked in the top twenty U.S. television programs during the first five years of its original run in the United States. Hillerman iconically played the character with a mixture of seriousness and humor, which gained him four Emmy nominations.
He won supporting actor for his role as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ in 1987. The role also won him a Golden Globe in 1982. Hillerman beat several British actors to the Higgins role, which he once called “the best gig I’ve ever had”.
He proved so convincing that he once received a fan letter from the UK describing him as “a credit to the Empire”. “I hate to disappoint you, but I’m a hick from Texas,” he would write back to fans who assumed he was British.
The series proved to be so iconic that last October CBS announced they would bring it back on tv, and is currently being developped by Peter M. Lenkov, who has helped reboot other series like ‘Hawaii 5.0’ and ‘ MacGyver’ for the network.
And last September, a group of men celebrated a bachelor party by chanelling their favorite ‘Magnum P.I’ detectives.
Source: NY Times