John Hillerman

John Hillerman Headshot

Actor

Birth Date: December 20, 1932

Death Date: November 9, 2017

Birth Place: Denison, Texas

Uptight, diminutive, mustachioed, often "veddy" (though faux) British and unfailingly urbane: Texas-born John Hillerman created this classic supporting character for 1970s and '80s TV.

After making an impression as arrogant 1940s radio show detective Simon Brimmer on the NBC revival of "Ellery Queen" (NBC, 1975-76), he further refined the character as the cold fish boss of Bonnie Franklin during the 1976-77 season of the long-running CBS sitcom "One Day at a Time." Hillerman fared well trading sarcastic quips with Betty White in the short-lived sitcom "The Betty White Show" (CBS, 1977-78). This clever spoof of the TV business revealed his mastery of the deadpan put-down as Hillerman played the estranged ex-husband and director of an Angie Dickinson-like actress in "Undercover Woman," a fictional cop show.

He apotheosized the character as the long-suffering major domo Jonathan Higgins in the hugely popular detective comedy-drama "Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88), which would prove to be his best-known role. The young Hillerman majored in journalism at the University of Texas and did a stint in the Air Force (1953-57)--where he achieved the rank of sergeant--before moving from Texas to NYC to pursue a career in the theater. Hillerman lost his thick Southern drawl with a year of intensive speech training the American Theatre Wing (1958-59).

He went on to an active 15-year stage career, eleven largely in New York and four in the Theater Club in Washington D.C. Hillerman racked up over a 100 leading roles on and off-Broadway in such plays as "Our Town," "Death of a Salesman," "The Lion in Winter," "The Little Foxes" and "The Seven Year Itch." One early stage role was playing a spear-carrier in a production of "Othello" where he met Peter Bogdanovich. Years later, the young writer-director would cast Hillerman in the landmark drama "The Last Picture Show," his film acting debut.

Hillerman went on to work with Bogdanovich three more times, in screwball comedy "What's Up, Doc?" (1972); Depression-era comedy-drama "Paper Moon" (1973) as twins, a sheriff and a bootlegger; and throwback Cole Porter-inspired musical "At Long Last Love" (1975) as Burt Reynolds' smooth valet. In films, Hillerman proved most convincing as small-time authority figures tinged with corruption. His other significant credits from that era include Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter" (1973) as the bootmaker; Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974) as local leader Howard Johnson; Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) as Yelburton, a shady city official; and Stanley Donen's "Lucky Lady" (1975) as a feisty hood.

Hollywood proved a hospitable home for the actor. Hillerman segued between features and TV before he struck paydirt as Jonathan Higgins, the repressed and paternalistic foil to the boyishly laid-back Tom Selleck. The role brought Hillerman wealth, international fame, a 1986/87 Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series and a Golden Globe that same year. It also provided Hillerman with the means for a comfortable retirement.

After the series' end in 1988, Hillerman worked only sporadically, starring in the made for TV movie "Hands of a Murderer" (1990) and joining the cast of the sitcom "The Hogan Family" (NBC/CBS 1986-1991) for its final season before making his final film appearance in "A Very Brady Sequel" (1996).

John Hillerman died on November 9, 2017 in Houston at the age of 84.

Credits

A Very Brady SequelStream

Actor
Dr. Whitehead
Movie
1996
57%

La main de l'assassin

Actor
Movie
1990

Hands of a Murderer

Actor
Dr. John Watson
Movie
1990

Sherlock Holmes and the Prince of Crime

Actor
Dr. John Watson
Movie
1990

Gummibärchen küsst man nicht

Actor
Movie
1989

Assault and Matrimony

Actor
Cyril
Movie
1987

Mariage à l'Américaine

Actor
Movie
1987

The Hogan Family

Actor
Lloyd Hogan
Series
1986

Murder, She WroteStream

Guest Star
Edgar Greenstreet
Series
1984

Up the Creek

Actor
Dean Burch
Movie
1984

Little Gloria... Happy at Last

Actor
Show
1982

Simon & Simon

Guest Star
Jonathan Higgins
Series
1981

Magnum, P.I.Stream

Actor
Jonathan Quayle Higgins III
Series
1980

Hart to HartStream

Guest Star
Series
1979

Sunburn

Actor
Webb
Movie
1979

SoapStream

Guest Star
Series
1977

The Betty White Show

Actor
John Elliot
Series
1977

Relentless

Actor
Major Leo Hargit
Movie
1977

Kill Me if You Can

Actor
George Davis
Movie
1977

Audrey Rose

Actor
Scott Velie
Movie
1977

Wonder WomanStream

Guest Star
Series
1976

The Invasion of Johnson County

Actor
Maj. Walcott
Movie
1976

One Day at a TimeStream

Guest Star
Series
1975

The Nickel Ride

Actor
Carl
Movie
1975

The Day of the LocustStream

Actor
Ned Grote
Movie
1975
61%

Too Many Suspects

Actor
Simon Brimmer
Movie
1975

At Long Last Love

Actor
Rodney James
Movie
1975

Lucky Lady

Actor
McTeague
Movie
1975

Ellery Queen

Actor
Simon Brimmer
Movie
1975

Little House on the PrairieStream

Guest Star
Sterling Murdock
Series
1974

Blazing SaddlesStream

Actor
Howard Johnson
Movie
1974
88%

ChinatownStream

Actor
Russ Yelburton
Movie
1974
99%

The Law

Actor
Thomas Q. Rachel
Movie
1974

KojakStream

Guest Star
Mark Gallant
Series
1973

The Thief Who Came to Dinner

Actor
Edmund Lasker
Movie
1973

Paper MoonStream

Actor
Deputy Hardin/Jess Hardin
Movie
1973
91%

The Great Man's Whiskers

Actor
Major Underwood
Movie
1973

MaudeStream

Guest Star
Series
1972

The Sixth Sense

Guest Star
Show
1972

What's Up Doc?Stream

Actor
Hotel Manager
Movie
1972
89%

The Last Picture ShowStream

Actor
Teacher
Movie
1971
98%

Sweet, Sweet Rachel

Actor
Medical Examiner
Movie
1971

Mannix

Guest Star
J.H. Morell
Series
1967