The TV community is now in mourning after another beloved screen star has passed away. John Hillerman, best known for playing Thomas Magnum’s estate caretaker in the 1980s TV series, Magnum P.I., has passed away at the age of 84, at his family home in Houston, Texas. Lori De Waal, a family spokesperson, had confirmed the actor’s death with the Associated Press, although no cause of death was given as of now.
John Hillerman was born December 20, 1932, in Denison, Texas, and he had attended the University of Texas at Austin for 3 years before enlisting in the United States Air Force. During his time in the Air Force, he had developed a love of performing after working with many theater groups. Upon his discharge, the actor had moved to New York City to study at the American Theater Wing, and he had got his first professional acting gigs in Ohio, The Cincinnati Playhouse, where he had developed the British accent that would come in handy later in his career.
He then made his way to Washington D.C. in the 1960s, where he became the most prestigious actors affiliated with the O Street Theater. Towards the end of the 1960s, Peter Bogdanovich happened to catch one of Hillerman’s performances. He was impressed with his work and met him backstage and offered him a role in his movie, The Last Picture Show. He continued to work regularly in movie and television throughout the 1970s, with film roles in What’s Up, Doc?, The Carey Treatment, High Plains Drifter, Paper Moon, Blazing Saddles, Chinatown and Lucky Lady, along with TV appearances in Kojak, Mannix, Ellery Queen, The Betty White Show, One Day At a Time and many more, before he landed on the iconic role of Jonathan Quayle Higgins III in Magnum P.I.
Jonathan Quayle Higgins III was the caretaker of a lavish estate, Robin’s Nest, where Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) stayed in the guest house. A stickler for rules and order, the caretaker clashed with the easy-going Magnum throughout the show’s 8-season run of 158 episodes, between 1980 and 1988. John Hillerman had earned his first Emmy in 1987 for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, after he received 3 Emmy nominations for his work as Higgins. He won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Higgins, with 4 other nominations. He appeared as Higgins on episodes of Simon & Simon and Murder She Wrote throughout Magnum P.I.’s run.
After Magnum P.I. went off the air, John Hillerman had appeared in the Around the World in 80 Days mini-series in 1989, the 1989 movie Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears and the TV series Valerie. His last role was in a 1996 movie, A Very Brady Sequel, where he played Dr. Whitehead, who was similar to his iconic Higgins character. He retired from acting in 1999.