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R.I.P. John Hillerman of 'Magnum, P.I.' and 'The Betty White Show'

The Emmy-winning actor passed away on November 9 at 84.

Image: The Everett Collection

John Hillerman wasn't born to be an actor. He said he discovered his talent out of boredom in the Air Force. He'd left his hometown of Denison, Texas, at 21 and climbed the ranks to sergeant, serving four years before he realized his life purpose after stepping on a stage once, just to lighten things up in his life. To try something new.

He was immediately hooked and once he was discharged, he moved to New York where he developed his chops in leading roles in more than 100 stage plays. From there, he set his sights on Hollywood, moving in 1969 and landing his first major movie role within a year in 1970 when he was cast in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! That initial role set the stage for a truly memorable career that saw Hillerman stand out as a special element of huge pictures, including Paper Moon, Chinatown and Blazing Saddles.

The Everett Collection

It wasn't in the movies that Hillerman found his greatest part, though. It was on the small screen. As Jonathan Quayle Higgings III, Hillerman became one of TV's best supporting actors in the hugely successful 1980s series, Magnum, P.I. By the time he was cast as Higgins, Hillerman had already made his mark on popular shows in the 1970s, including Mannix, Lou Grant, Hawaii Five-O, and Wonder Woman, as well as in regular roles in hit shows like Ellery Queen and The Betty White Show.

20th Television

On Magnum, P.I., though, his neatly parted hair and perfectly maintained mustache became a TV fixture. When he auditioned for the role of the British estate manager, The New York Times reported, the boy from Texas just had something that actual British actors lacked. Hillerman had practiced his English accent on stages and his work paid off. Within two hours of his audition, he found out he had the part. He didn't just impress the casting director, either. In 1982, he won a Golden Globe and then in 1987, an Emmy.

John Hillerman in 'Wonder Woman'

Once Magnum, P.I., wrapped in 1988, Hillerman continued acting for a little more than a decade, with his final role in A Very Brady Sequel in 1997. He retired from acting in 1999. 

After a period of declining health, Hillerman passed away from natural causes on November 9 at 84.

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  • DINA MERRILL, THE BILLIONAIRE HEIRESS WHO PLAYED BATMAN VILLAIN CALAMITY JAN
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  • Don Rickles
  • RICHARD HATCH of 'BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'
  • MICHAEL PARKS OF 'THEN CAME BRONSON' AND 'TWIN PEAKS'
  • Chuck Barris, host of 'The Gong Show'
  • Roger Smith of '77 Sunset Strip'
  • ELENA VERDUGO OF 'MARCUS WELBY, M.D.'
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  • JUDGE JOSEPH WAPNER OF 'THE PEOPLE'S COURT'
  • FILM HISTORIAN ROBERT OSBORNE
  • Dick Gautier, Hymie the Robot from 'Get Smart'
  • LAWRENCE MONTAIGNE OF 'STAR TREK'
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  • JOHN CYGAN OF 'THE COMMISH' AND 'BOB'
  • MIGUEL FERRER, SON OF JOSÉ FERRER AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY
  • Francine York, 'Batman' actress and 1960s star
  • BRUCE LANSBURY, BROTHER OF ANGELA, PRODUCER OF 'WONDER WOMAN' AND 'WILD WILD WEST'
  • JEFFREY HAYDEN, DIRECTOR OF ALL OF OUR FAVORITE TV EPISODES
  • Mary Tyler Moore
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  • BARBARA HALE OF 'PERRY MASON'
  • Roger Moore
  • ERIN MORAN OF 'HAPPY DAYS' AND 'JOANIE LOVES CHACHI'
  • DINA MERRILL, THE BILLIONAIRE HEIRESS WHO PLAYED BATMAN VILLAIN CALAMITY JAN
  • Mike Connors, star of 'Mannix'
  • Don Rickles
  • RICHARD HATCH of 'BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'
  • MICHAEL PARKS OF 'THEN CAME BRONSON' AND 'TWIN PEAKS'
  • Chuck Barris, host of 'The Gong Show'
  • Roger Smith of '77 Sunset Strip'
  • ELENA VERDUGO OF 'MARCUS WELBY, M.D.'
  • CURT LOWENS, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, WAR HERO AND 'HOGAN'S HEROES' ACTOR
  • JUDGE JOSEPH WAPNER OF 'THE PEOPLE'S COURT'
  • FILM HISTORIAN ROBERT OSBORNE
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