John Hillerman, a Texas-born actor who played the likably snobbish British caretaker on the television show “Magnum, P.I.” and held supporting roles in iconic 1970s movies like “Chinatown” and “Blazing Saddles,” died Thursday at his home in Houston. He was 84.
His publicist, Lori De Waal, said he had died of natural causes.
After 30 years of acting, on Broadway and in Hollywood, Mr. Hillerman landed a career-defining role in 1980 as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, the stuffy perfectionist and foil to the free-spirited detective Thomas Magnum in “Magnum, P.I.” Higgins was grouchy with a sarcastic wit, not unlike Mr. Hillerman’s portrayal of a detective in the mid-1970s show “Ellery Queen.”
“Magnum, P.I.” became a runaway success for eight years for CBS and made Tom Selleck, who played Magnum, a mainstay in tabloids, solidifying his Hollywood career. But Mr. Hillerman relished the supporting role and found it equally rewarding.
“It isn’t so long ago that I was a struggling actor living in New York, and the only thing I could overlook was my rent,” Mr. Hillerman said in a 1985 interview, sipping a glass of wine on his penthouse balcony in Honolulu.
The portrayal of Higgins won him an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, a Golden Globe Award and many fans in England, who adored the haughty major-domo of a beachfront property where Magnum lived. Mr. Hillerman said he felt terrible when he responded to their fan mail and had to let them down.
(Excerpt) Read More in: The New York Times