John Benedict Hillerman (December 20, 1932 – November 9, 2017) was an American actor best known for his starring role as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on the television show Magnum, P.I. that aired from 1980 to 1988. For his role as Higgins, Hillerman earned five Golden Globenominations, winning in 1981, and four Emmy nominations, winning in 1987. He retired from acting in 1999.
Early life and career
Hillerman was born in Denison, Texas, the son of Christopher Benedict Hillerman, a gas station owner, and Lenora Joan (née Medlinger). He was the middle child with two sisters. His father was the grandson of immigrants from Germany and France, and his mother the daughter of immigrants from Austria and Germany. He developed an interest in opera at the age of ten, and traveled to Dallas to watch Metropolitan Operaproductions. Hillerman attended St. Xavier’s Academy, and after graduation, he attended the University of Texas at Austin for three years, majoring in Journalism.
Hillerman served four years in the United States Air Force (1953-1957), working in maintenance in a B-36 wing of the Strategic Air Command, and achieving the rank of sergeant. He became interested in acting after working with a theatrical group in Fort Worth during his service: “I was bored with barracks life. I got into [acting] to meet people in town. A light went on.” After his 1957 discharge, he moved to New York City, to study at the American Theatre Wing, and performed in professional theater for the next twelve years, in productions such as Henry IV, Part 2and The Great God Brown. Despite starring in over 100 lead roles, Hillerman was unable to make a living as a stage actor, and he moved to Hollywood in 1969.
Hillerman made his film debut in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) in an uncredited role as a reporter. Director Peter Bogdanovich, with whom Hillerman had previously worked during his stage career, cast Hillerman in his films The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon. In 1974, he played the memorable role of Russ Yelburton, the deputy chief of the Los Angeles Water Department in the film classic, Chinatown. Hillerman worked steadily thereafter in motion pictures and television in the 1970s, but after being cast in Magnum, P.I., he shot only four additional pictures between 1980 and 1996, with his final film performance coming in A Very Brady Sequel.
In 1975, Hillerman was a co-star in Ellery Queen as Simon Brimmer, a radio detective who hosted a radio show and tried to outsmart the title character (Jim Hutton).:305 From 1976 to 1980, he had a recurring role as Mr. Conners on the sitcom One Day at a Time, and he co-starred as Betty White‘s estranged husband on The Betty White Show (1977-1978). He is perhaps best remembered for his role as former British Army Sergeant Major Jonathan Higgins in Magnum, P.I. (1980–1988),:642 for which he learned an English accent by listening to a recording of Laurence Olivier reciting Hamlet.[note 1] He considered Higgins his favorite role, and described the character in a 1988 interview as “think[ing] he’s the only sane character [in the show], and everyone else is stark raving mad.”
In 1982, Hillerman starred in the television pilot of Tales of the Gold Monkey, as a German villain named Fritz the Monocle. He hosted the 1984 David Hemmings-directed puzzle video Money Hunt: The Mystery of the Missing Link. In 1990, Hillerman returned to television to perform for one season as Lloyd Hogan in the sitcom The Hogan Family.:465 That same year, he portrayed Dr. Watson to Edward Woodward‘s Sherlock Holmes in Hands of a Murderer.
In 1993, he appeared in Berlin Break for one season. He played the role of Mac MacKenzie, a former spy and currently the proprietor of Mac’s, a bar in West Berlin considered to be neutral territory during the Cold War. Mac teamed up with two jobless spies as investigators: Valentin Renko (Nicholas Clay), an ex-KGB agent, and Willy Richter (Kai Wulff), an ex-BND (West German secret service) operative. The show reunited him with Jeff MacKay, who portrayed “Mac” MacReynolds in Magnum P.I..
Later years and death
After Hillerman retired from acting in 1999, he returned to his home state of Texas. On November 9, 2017, he died at his Houston home of natural causes at the age of 84; he had been in declining health near the end of his life.
|1970||They Call Me Mister Tibbs!||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1971||The Last Picture Show||Teacher|
|1972||What’s Up, Doc?||Hotel Manager Kaltenborn|
|1972||The Carey Treatment||Jenkins|
|1972||The Outside Man||Manager|
|1973||The Thief Who Came to Dinner||Edmund Lasker|
|1973||High Plains Drifter||Bootmaker|
|1973||Paper Moon||Deputy Hardin/Jess Hardin|
|1973||The Naked Ape||Psychiatrist|
|1974||Blazing Saddles||Howard Johnson|
|1974||The Nickel Ride||Carl|
|1975||At Long Last Love||Rodney James|
|1975||The Day of the Locust||Ned Grote|
|1981||History of the World, Part I||Rich Man (French Revolution)|
|1984||Up the Creek||Dean Burch|
|1989||Gummibärchen küßt man nicht||Padre|
|1996||A Very Brady Sequel||Dr. Whitehead|
|1971||Sweet, Sweet Rachel||Medical Examiner||Television film|
|1972||The Sixth Sense||Adrian Weems||Episode: “Once Upon a Chilling”|
|1972||Mannix||Larry Lawton||Episode: “Light and Shadow”|
|1972||The Great Man’s Whiskers||Major Underwood||Television film|
|1973||Mannix||J. H. Morell||Episode: “Silent Target”|
|1974||Maude||Drunk||Episode: “The Commuter Station”|
|1974||Kojak||Mark Gallant||Episode: “The Only Way Out”|
|1974||The Law||Thomas Rachel||Television film|
|1975||Mannix||Norman Thompson||Episode: “Search for a Dead Man”|
|1975||The Bob Crane Show||Dean Harrington||Episode: “The Son of the Campus Capers”|
|1975–1976||Ellery Queen||Simon Brimmer||8 episodes|
|1976||Serpico||Raoul Christie||Episode: “Rapid Fire”|
|1976||Hawaii Five-O||Donald Blair||Episode: “Man on Fire”|
|1976||Wonder Woman||Conrad Steigler||Episode: “Wonder Woman vs Gargantua”|
|1976–1980||One Day at a Time||Mr. Connors||6 episodes|
|1977||Delvecchio||Dr. Augustus Hamilton||Episode: “Licensed to Kill”|
|1977–1978||The Betty White Show||John Elliott||14 episodes|
|1978||Hawaii Five-O||Nelson Bodine||Episode: “A Stranger in His Grave”|
|1978||Little House on the Prairie||Sterling Murdock||Episode: “Harriet’s Happening”|
|1979||The Love Boat||Ed Hartnett||2 episodes|
|1980||Young Maverick||McBurney||Episode: “Makin’ Tracks”|
|1980||Hart to Hart||Victor Sutter||Episode: “Cruise At Your Own Risk”|
|1980||Tenspeed and Brown Shoe||William Whitney||Episode: “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”|
|1980||Lou Grant||Sturbridge||Episode: “Pack”|
|1980–1988||Magnum, P.I.||Jonathan Higgins||158 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (1983, 1985, 1987–1988)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (1984–1986)
|1982||Tales of the Gold Monkey||Monocle||2 episodes|
|1982||Simon & Simon||Jonathan Higgins||Episode: “Emeralds Are Not a Girl’s Best Friend”|
|1983||The Love Boat||Manfred||Episode: “The Last Case”|
|1986||Murder, She Wrote||Jonathan Higgins||Episode: “Magnum on Ice”|
|1989||Around the World in 80 Days||Sir Francis Commarty||3 episodes|
|1990||Hands of a Murderer||Dr. John Watson||Television film|
|1990–1991||The Hogan Family||Lloyd Hogan||13 episodes|
|1992||Murder, She Wrote||Edgar Greenstreet||Episode: “Murder on Madison Avenue”|
Awards and nominations
|Primetime Emmy Awards|
|1984||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series||Magnum, P.I.||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards|
|1982||Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Magnum, P.I.||Won|
- An article about Hillerman in OrangeCoast magazine in June 1988 said, “… the accent supplanted a thick drawl. Born and brought up in Texas, he [Hillerman] trained away the drawl in a year of intensive work in New York’s American Theatre Wing.”
- “John Hillerman Biography”. filmreference.com. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- Haag, Matthew (9 November 2017). “John Hillerman, Who Played Snooty Caretaker on ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ Dies at 84”. The New York Times.
- Sheff, David (April 18, 1983). “The Lean Years Are Over for John Hillerman, Who’s Finding a Magnum of Success in Hawaii”. People. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- Logan, Dan (June 1988). “John Hillerman Says Goodbye to Magnum, P.I”. OrangeCoast. pp. 214–215. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
- Quttman, Monika (June 17, 1987). “‘Higgins’ Not Really British”. The Victoria Advocate. Tribune Media Services. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- “John Hillerman, Emmy-Winning ‘Magnum, P.I.’ Actor, Dies at 84”. Variety. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
- “(“John Hillerman” search results)”. Playbill Vault. Playbill. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
- “‘MAGNUM, P.I.’ STAR JOHN HILLERMAN DEAD AT 84”. TMZ. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
- Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
- Conroy, Sarah Booth (June 1, 1986). “John Hillerman”. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
- “‘Magnum, P.I.’ actor John Hillerman dies at 84”. Los Angeles Times. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9,2017.
- Barnes, Mike (November 9, 2017). “John Hillerman, Higgins on ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ Dies at 84”. Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
- “Billboard Videocassette Top 40” (PDF). Billboard. September 15, 1984. p. 30. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
- “‘Magnum P.I.’ Higgins actor John Hillerman dies at 84”. Fox News. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9,2017.
- “John Hillerman Filmography”. FanDango. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
- “John Hillerman”. Hollywood. Retrieved November 9,2017.
- “John Hillerman Filmography”. Retrieved November 9,2017.
- “Nominees/Winners”. emmys.com. 1984. Retrieved July 4,2014.
- “Nominees/Winners”. emmys.com. 1985. Retrieved July 4,2014.
- “Nominees/Winners”. emmys.com. 1986. Retrieved July 4,2014.
- “Nominees/Winners”. emmys.com. 1987. Retrieved July 4,2014.
- “Winners and Nominees: John Hillerman”. Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved June 10, 2017.
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