Robert Hegyes’ Death

January 28, 2012 by staff 

Robert Hegyes' DeathRobert Hegyes’ Death, Robert Hegyes, the “Welcome Back, Kotter” star who died of a heart attack on Thursday at age 60, had a favorite saying for friends: “I love you to pieces.”

Several of those friends said he also felt that way about the borough, where he came to live from the Fords section of Woodbridge during his high school years and returned two years ago after a successful television career, most notably as Juan Epstein on “Kotter.”

“He wanted to come back to Metuchen because he felt safe and comfortable here,” said Peter Loewy, owner of the borough’s Forum Theatre and a longtime family friend.

“He said that Metuchen molded who he was,” added John Novak, the Metuchen High School football coach of the 1969 graduate. “He always felt very strongly that the Metuchen community and school had molded him into the person he became. He never forgot that as he became famous and lived on the West Coast. That’s why he gravitated back to Metuchen.”

A principal at the high school for 30 years before retiring in 2009, Novak said that Hegyes inspired his peers as both a football player and actor. He fondly remembered him starring in spring musicals, such as “The Music Man” and “Funny Girl.”

Heyges remained upbeat and positive, friends said. His production company aptly was named OptiMystic Media, they said.

“Robert had a great sense of humor and would always find the bright spot in anything,” said Linda Wonski, a friend from high school and an OptiMystic volunteer.

‘Great soul’
“He never said a bad word about anybody, ever,” Loewy added. “He had a really good soul.”

Hegyes not only loved Metuchen, he was proud of it, Novak said, so much so that he wore out two varsity football jackets over the years. He always wore his original one as a cast member of the Emmy-winning detective show “Cagney & Lacey,” starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless. When he wore it out while on the show, the high school sent him a new one, Novak said. He had requested a third one not long ago, Novak said.

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