Loni Anderson Mourns the Loss of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ Costar Howard Hesseman

by Josh Lanier

Loni Anderson said she is “devastated and heartbroken” over the death of Howard Hesseman, her WKRP in Cincinnati co-star and friend for four decades.

Howard Hesseman, 81, died on Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles from complications of colon surgery, reports said. Hesseman starred as disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati alongside Andreson, Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, and Frank Bonner for four seasons.

Anderson told Fox News that the two became close on the set and remained friends since.

“I’m devastated and heartbroken,” Anderson told Fox News. “The warmth and depth of our 40-year friendship only grew stronger with each decade.”

WKRP in Cincinnati followed the misadventures of a struggling top 40 radio station in Ohio. Hesseman’s Johnny Fever was a disgruntled former hippie whose career was in freefall after losing a job at a major radio station in Los Angeles. Though, Anderson said he was charming and kind and nothing like his character.

“Howard was eloquent, … stylish, … and hilarious,” she shared. “I loved getting his erudite ‘Dear Lady Loni’ emails. My favorite Howard sign-off … a quote by Louis Armstrong … ‘Jazz is what you are.’ And now Howard, forever missed is just what you are.”

Fellow WKRP in Cincinnati castmate Frank Bonner, who played Herb Tarlek, died last summer from Lewy body dementia. He was 79.

Frank Bonner was like family,” Anderson said at the time. “He was one of the funniest and nicest men I worked with.”

Hesseman had small parts in The Andy Griffith Show, Dragnet 1967, Soap, and Sanford and Son. After his breakout success on WKRP in Cincinnati, Hesseman appeared in several movies such as This is Spinal Tap, Clue, and Flight of the Navigator. 

Steve Martin Mourns Death of WKRP in Cincinnati Star

Steve Martin mourned Hesseman’s death on Twitter. The comedy legend tweeted that he worked with the WKRP in Cincinnati star.

“I worked with Howard Hesseman a bit in the early 70s,” Martin tweeted. “I’m paraphrasing: ‘I bought a set of leather luggage today. It looks new now, but 25 years from now I’ll have a set of groovy luggage.’”

According to a Reddit post, Steve Martin and Howard Hesseman worked together as part of the advertising improv collective known as The Celanese Players. Penny Marshall was also a member of the group. Carl Gottlieb formed the group in 1972 and named them after the Celanese Fibers Company. Gottlieb created the group as part of an advertising campaign for the company that made synthetic and polyester fibers.

The Celanese Players created 150 sixty-second ads for the company that appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson throughout 1973.

Hesseman also has an uncredited role in Steve Martin’s masterpiece The Jerk.