I read those words on Facebook the other day in a post by writer extraordinaire Stephen Mark Rainey, and a quick bit of Web surfing confirmed that Robert Hegyes, who played Sweathog Juan Epstein on the 1970s television show Welcome Back Kotter, had died.
He was 60.
I think reading that sentence, that he was 60, surprised me more than his death.
I was never a big Kotter fan, not because I had anything against the show, but this was back in the days when TVs came equipped with rabbit ears and needed an antenna mounted on the roof of the house. Where I lived we received two network television stations, CBS and NBC affiliates (and on rare days when the cloud-cover was just right, a fuzzy PBS affiliate). Welcome Back Kotter, carried on ABC stations, simply wasn't available. I caught it some while visiting my sister – they had this cool thing called cable television – and I thought it was mildly funny. Welcome Back Kotter that is, not the cable TV.
Still, I have an image of Epstein, and Vinnie Barbarino, Arnold Horshack, and Gabe Kotter very much like the one in this picture accompanying a New York Times article telling of Mr. Hegyes' death. Sure, I know it's been 32 years since that showed left the airwaves, and three decades is a long time. Still, in my mind I see the people in that series just like they appeared at that time, and learning Mr. Hegyes had died, that he had grown into the beginning of his seventh decade of life before dying – it just seemed sudden and sobering. Like he had aged all at once.
Has that ever happened to you? You see an interview with some star from a series you recall from years ago, but today they are gray and wrinkled – or worse, they have died – and it strikes you in some visceral way that they are getting older.
And that means you are, too.
Which brings me to this. Aging hopefully brings with it some wisdom and understanding. Chief among that understanding is that some of those hopes and dreams you might have had when you were younger were simply unrealistic. Others, though, may still be worth pursuing, maybe even more so now with the benefit of a few years of that wisdom as part of your make-up.
That's what I'm hoping. And that's why I've started this blog, and gotten more active over at my Facebook account, because I have decided 2012 is the year to return to a few of those dreams of my youth.
And make them reality.