‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ Star Tim Reid Pens Heartfelt Tribute to ‘Gentle Soul’ Howard Hesseman

by Suzanne Halliburton

Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap were the best of friends on WKRP in Cincinnati. One was the over-caffeinated morning DJ, the other was the super smooth dude who spun records after dark.

Howard Hesseman played Johnny, the rock-n-roll DJ who was fired from a big-market radio gig for saying “booger” on air. Tim Reid portrayed Venus, the New Orleans native who preferred reggae over rock.

The two actors were dear friends in real life. So when Hesseman died Saturday at the age of 81, Reid honored his friend with a heartfelt essay for Variety. They sounded like the best kind of friends, two men who vacationed together and respected each other’s immense talent.

WKRP in Cincinnati, a comedy that ran from 1978-82, was the first real starring vehicle for both actors. The other characters were as quirky, whether it was Les Nessman reading the news, or Herb, with his plaid jackets, hitting on radio station receptionist Jennifer Marlowe.

Reid described the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati as “truly the only real TV family I have ever been a part of.” He said Loni Anderson, who played Jennifer, called him to break the news about Hesseman’s death.

Reid Said He First Met Hesseman Before WKRP In Cincinnati Staff Meeting. But He’d ‘Lifted’ His Act Years Before

Reid recalled the first time he met Hesseman. It was at a cast meeting before they shot the pilot of WKRP in Cincinnati. He said he immediately felt the need to apologize to Hesseman. Why? Reid said he “lifted” part of Hesseman’s comedy routine when Hesseman was in a comedy improv troupe. Basically, Reid was inspired by Hesseman’s act. In it, a Black man would teach a white guy how to be Black. Reid said the act probably was too “politically incorrect” for today’s times.

Hesseman said he didn’t mind that Reid used the idea. “Rather than get angry at me,” the WKRP in Cincinnati star wrote, “Howard laughed and said, “You did a good job with it.” And that started a beautiful friendship.”

Reid described Hesseman as a “real hippie.” And he was “smooth and cool in the older definition of cool.” He loved to wear scarves and red shoes and was known for that signature style.

Reid Said Hesseman Was ‘Mellow Man’ with Great Smile

The two shared fantastic times together. “We chased giraffes in Africa,” Reid wrote. “We met up on vacations with our wives in Paris and Italy. (And) we were two opposites, spirit-wise. He had that quiet humor. I can’t remember ever hearing him express himself in a really loud, aggressive way.”

After WKRP in Cincinnati, Hesseman found another comedy for his talents. He played professor Charlie Moore in Head of the Class. Meanwhile, Reid starred in Simon and Simon, Frank’s Place and Sister, Sister.

The two men remained friends for life

Reid wrote of Hesseman: “In his later years, Howard was an erudite, peaceful, funny man who loved to split his time living with his wife Caroline in the south of France and in Southern California. Think of a mellow, Salvador Dali-type of character with a warm smile, neatly wrapped scarf, signature red shoes — with a large blunt in hand.”