Obituary: John Hillerman, actor, best known for roles in Magnum PI, Valerie and The Love Boat

TV actor John Hillerman in 1985 (Picture: AP Photo/LIU, File)
TV actor John Hillerman in 1985 (Picture: AP Photo/LIU, File)
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John Hillerman, American actor. Born: 20 December, 1932 in Denison, Texas. Died: 9 November 2017, in Houston, Texas, aged 84

John Hillerman, who played stuffed-shirt Higgins to Tom Selleck’s freewheeling detective Thomas Magnum in the 1980s TV series Magnum, P.I. has died at the age of 84.

Hillerman, who had been in declining health, died of natural causes at his home in Houston, nephew Chris Tritico said.

Besides playing manager of the Hawaiian estate that Magnum used as home base, Hillerman was known for his 1970s roles as arrogant radio show detective Simon Brimmer on the Ellery Queen series and the difficult boss on the sitcom One Day at a Time.

When Hillerman decided to retire about 17 years ago, the actor born in Denison, Texas, returned to his native state and was content leaving Hollywood behind, said his nephew. He remembered his uncle, an Air Force veteran, fondly.

“He had an outstanding sense of humour and was one of the most well-read people I ever met. You couldn’t play Scrabble with him,” Tritico said.

As for that quasi-British accent that Hillerman used on Magnum and elsewhere, his nephew said that was honed during several decades of playing varied roles on the New York stage before he turned to TV and movies.

Hillerman used something closer to his own voice in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles playing Howard Johnson, one of the comic Western’s many Johnsons. He appeared in a number of TV series, including Valerie, The Love Boat and The Betty White Show, and in films including The Last Picture Show and High Plains Drifter.

His last credits included 1996’s A Very Brady Sequel and an early ‘90s appearance on Murder, She Wrote.

The role of Higgins was his favourite, Tritico said.

“The reason he didn’t take another big role is he refused to take a sitcom after Magnum,” he said. “He wanted to continue doing the serious work that he felt Magnum was.”

Hillerman’s survivors include a sister, Jo Ann Tritico, and seven nieces and nephews including Chris Tritico, a Houston attorney.

At his request no services will be held, Chris Tritico said.