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Hill Street Blues Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Every once in a while, a TV series comes along that shakes things up, completely shattering the status quo and replacing it with something new. Debuting in 1981, "Hill Street Blues" is one such show. With rare exceptions, every episode of the show took place over the course of a single day, beginning with roll call and ending with the characters played by Daniel J. Travanti and Veronica Hamel discussing the events of the day, usually in the context of pillow talk. "Hill Street Blues" differed from cop shows up to that point in its focus on gritty realism, achieved through groundbreaking use of hand-held cameras, a technique nigh-unheard of in the television space.

"Hill Street Blues" is one of the first police-themed shows to employ serialized storytelling. Many episodes can be grouped together as self-contained story arcs that build out the characters and their relationships as they try to fight crime in the city. As the show grew over the course of its seven-season run, the characters grew and changed, and their flaws would frequently catch up to them, leading to their untimely, tragic, and avoidable deaths.

Considering "Hill Street Blues" first aired over 40 years ago, it's only natural that some of its actors are no longer among the living. Here are twelve "Hill Street Blues" actors you may not know passed away.

Michael Conrad

"Let's be careful out there." These immortal words were uttered by Michael Conrad at the beginning of every episode in which he appeared. Throughout the first four seasons, Conrad starred as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, the wise and paternal authority figure who cared for the safety of the officers under his command. Conrad earned critical praise for his performance, winning two Emmy Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category.

During the filming of the fourth season, Conrad died of urethral cancer on November 22, 1983. He was 58 years old. On "Hill Street Blues," his death was written into the show, though his cause of death was changed. Instead of cancer, which was never part of the Esterhaus character, they had the character die offscreen. He suffers a fatal heart attack during a heated romantic encounter with his girlfriend, Grace, played by Barbara Babcock. That's one dangerously sexy redhead, indeed.

Outside of "Hill Street Blues," Conrad was mainly a hardworking television actor, appearing on shows as varied as "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Incredible Hulk" to "All in the Family" and "The Bob Newhart Show." On the big screen, he made a notable appearance in 1974's "The Longest Yard," alongside Burt Reynolds.

Robert Prosky

In Season 5, actor Robert Prosky was brought in to play Sgt. Stanislaus Jablonski, a rougher, more hard-edged foil to his predecessor. Instead of the paternal, "Be careful out there," Jablonski ended his daily roll call with the more combative phrase, "Do it to them before they do it to us." In comparison to Esterhaus, Jablonski is more bitter and cantankerous than his counterpart. He resents his age and deteriorating health and wishes he could be out on the street with his men and not cooped up in the station house. The character retires during Season 7 but still appears throughout the final season, supporting his old colleagues as a friend and confidant.

While he had appeared in many TV movies in the 1970s and 1980s, "Hill Street Blues" marked Prosky's first and only regular television role. Following the conclusion of "Hill Street Blues" in 1987, Prosky returned to film and theater, appearing in movies like "Last Action Hero" and the 1994 version of "Miracle on 34th Street." On the stage, he starred in productions in Washington D.C. and New York City, including "Camping with Henry and Tom" and "Democracy."

Robert Prosky died in 2008 following complications from heart surgery. He was 77 years old.

Kiel Martin

Actor Kiel Martin starred in all seven seasons of "Hill Street Blues" as J.D. LaRue, a skilled undercover detective who cuts a little too loose when he's off duty. Outside of his duty as a cop, his life is marred by poor choices. He's bad with money, he's bad with alcohol, and bad with women. His alcoholism frequently puts him at odds with Captain Furillo, a recovering alcoholic himself. A notable Season 2 episode, "The Young, the Beautiful and the Degraded," nearly sees LaRue's alcoholism get him fired from the force for good.

LaRue could have been a one-note sitcom character who happened to star in a gritty cop show, but Martin imbued him with so much soul that he came across as a fully realized, three-dimensional hero. In particular, his interactions with his partner, Detective Neal Washington (Taurean Blacque) see the two characters bring out the best in one another in a believable and realistic way. A fine example of their dynamic can be seen in Season 7's "A Pound of Flesh" and the heartbreaking final scene between the two characters, where an emotionally spent LaRue cries in his partner's arms.

Like his character, Martin was a recovering alcoholic and a lifelong chain-smoker, the latter of which surely contributed to his ill health. On December 28, 1990, he died of lung cancer at the age of 46. His final onscreen appearance was in a 1990 episode of "Murder, She Wrote."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Robert Hirschfeld

Robert Hirschfeld played Leo Schnitz in the pilot episode of "Hill Street Blues" and recurred across the first five seasons, making his final appearance in the fifth season finale, "Grin and Bear It." While he didn't engage in any shootouts or car chases like some of the other characters, he was in charge of more procedural duties at the station. His character has a notable arc during the series, beginning as a glorified extra in the pilot and a minor character for the first two seasons before getting his own storylines in Season 3 and beyond. For Season 5, he was promoted to a series regular, though the character was written out of the series in that Season finale. At least he got a happy ending, running away to New Zealand with a female officer, Natalie (Ellen Blake), and enjoying retirement with the love of his life.

In the 1970s, Hirschfeld appeared in several of the decade's most beloved movies, playing minor roles in "Escape from Alcatraz" and "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry." Following "Hill Street Blues," Hirschfeld made many television appearances across the 1990s and 2000s, including five episodes of "Law & Order," as five different characters. His final television appearance was in a 2006 episode of "The Sopranos." Hirschfeld died in 2009 at the age of 67, presumably of natural causes.

René Enríquez

Lieutenant Calletano, played by René Enríquez, made his first appearance in the pilot episode of "Hill Street Blues" and appeared in 109 episodes across all seven seasons. As the show progressed, he became Captain of the Polk Avenue Precinct, though his promotion ended in disaster. Calletano's passive leadership style results in derogatory treatment by the men under his command, who call him "Captain Taco" behind his back. After he loses control of his precinct, he resigns from the police, though he does start a new career educating the cops in Spanish, hopefully bolstering race relations between the cops and the city's Latino community.

Unlike his character, Enríquez was born in Nicaragua, not Colombia. It was initially reported that he died of pancreatic cancer in 1990, but it was later revealed that he actually died due to complications from AIDS. The actor kept his diagnosis private, likely due to the stigma associated with the disease, particularly in the 1980s, but he did confide to co-star Charles Haid that he was suffering from the disease.

Trinidad Silva

Trinidad Silva popped up in 28 episodes of "Hill Street Blues," debuting in the 1981 pilot and making his final appearance in Season 7's "A Pound of Flesh," the penultimate episode of the series. Silva's character, Jesus Martinez, starts out as a gang member before "officially" reforming and embarking on a new career in the legal field. Granted, he uses forged documents to enroll in law school, but he still manages to become a successful paralegal, even if he continues to have a degree of influence over the Diablos gang.

Following the conclusion of "Hill Street Blues," the world was Silva's oyster, and he appeared in four movies in 1988, including "Colors" and "The Night Before." Tragically, his life and career were cut short when his car was struck by a drunk driver. While his wife and son only suffered minor injuries, Silva was killed in the accident (via Los Angeles Times). His final film, 1989's "UHF," is dedicated to his memory. One can only imagine what he could have achieved had he not been killed in such a senseless accident.

Larry D. Mann

Across 15 episodes between Season 3 and Season 6, actor Larry D. Mann appeared as Judge Lee Oberman. A relatively minor character, Oberman always keeps his cool and rarely raises his voice. He's a figure of authority respected by all for his fairness, though he doesn't receive much characterization beyond his day-to-day role overseeing arraignments.

Generations of children know Larry D. Mann as the voice of Yukon Cornelius from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the stop-motion holiday classic. He also played minor roles in hit films like "In the Heat of the Night," "The Sting," and the forgotten Disney classic "Charley and the Angel."

Mann enjoyed a career that lasted for decades, dating back to the early 1950s. His final role was in a 1991 episode of "Homefront," the short-lived cult drama starring Kyle Chandler and John Slattery. His marriage to wife Gloria Kochberg lasted for nearly 70 years, only ending with his death from natural causes on January 6, 2014. He was 91 years old (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Pat Corley

Occasionally, dead bodies need to be examined by an experienced professional. That's where the coroner comes in. Actor Pat Corley only appeared in five episodes of "Hill Street Blues" in its third season, but he proved popular enough to make a final guest appearance in Season 6. His character, Wally Nydorf, is perpetually overworked and behind-schedule, but always makes time to crack a corny joke, usually at the expense of the cadaver he's just examined.

Pat Corley spent decades working in film and television. He got his start in a 1968 episode of "N.Y.P.D.," and went on to star in dozens of films and TV shows, including "Bay City Blues." Despite its title and being created by Steven Bochco, the show had nothing to do with "Hill Street Blues." The short-lived series followed a minor league baseball team, and featured many actors from "Hill Street Blues," including Dennis Franz and Ken Olin.

His best known work was as a regular in "Murphy Brown," starring Candice Bergen. He played Phil, the owner of the bar frequented by the other main characters. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 due to congestive heart failure. He was 76 years old, per the Los Angeles Times.

Dolph Sweet

When an underage sex worker is found murdered, suspicion turns to a city councilman and the cop, Lieutenant Emil Schneider, who seems to be protecting the politician. This three-episode arc from the first season, beginning with "Gatorbait" and ending with "I Never Promised You a Rose, Marvin," features Dolph Sweet as Schneider, a middle-aged cop who's lost his way. The husky tough-guy actor gives a tremendous performance in his scant few scenes; it's a testament to series lead Daniel J. Travanti that he is able to match Sweet during the more emotionally-charged moments.

Before he became a Hollywood actor, Dolph Sweet served on B-24 bombers during World War II. After his plane was shot down on a mission, he served two years as a Prisoner of War. After the war, he became an actor and appeared in dozens of films and television shows, frequently playing lawmen. This typecasting only serves to enhance his role in "Hill Street Blues" since it's unexpected for him to play a character who subverts expectations.

Sweet's final project was the domestic sitcom "Gimme a Break!," which lasted six seasons and saw the star opposite Nell Carter. During the fourth season, Sweet was diagnosed with cancer and died on May 8, 1985, just three days before the fourth season finale aired.

Lawrence Tierney

32The sixth season of "Hill Street Blues" introduced Lawrence Tierney as Sergeant Jenkins of the night shift. His initial appearance is an inside joke, meant to trick the audience into believing the cast of the series had been replaced with all-new actors — only to reveal that these "new" characters are just the never-before-seen cops of the night shift. Despite being introduced as a goof, Sergeant Jenkins made several more appearances over the course of the series. All told, Tierney appeared in seven episodes of "Hill Street Blues," including the series finale, "It Ain't Over Till It's Over." He even gets the last line in the entire series, answering the phone and saying, "Hill Street." Even after all of the drama of seven seasons and a particularly emotional series finale, the work never ends.

Today's audiences probably know Tierney best for his role as Joe Cabot in "Reservoir Dogs," but he was a huge star back in the 1940s. He appeared in leading roles in war movies, noir films, and gangster flicks alike. Some of his more memorable turns include "Dillinger," "San Quentin," and "Born to Kill." Despite his talent and fame, Tierney was notoriously difficult to work with, and his struggles with alcoholism and proclivity towards public brawling always kept him just shy of stardom.

Tierney died in his sleep on February 26, 2002, while suffering from a bout of pneumonia. He was 82 years old (via Los Angeles Times).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Joe Santos

In the final three episodes of Season 4, Joe Santos stars as Jimmy Lastarza, a mafia goon trying to force video poker machines on local taverns. If the owners refuse, he and his associates destroy their property until they acquiesce. Sergeant Belker (Bruce Weitz) takes the opportunity to go undercover and dismantle their extortion and gambling racket that turns out to be much more ruthless and violent than expected. This culminates in a hostage situation on a prison bus that pulls no punches and is one of the scariest and most intense sequences in the entire series.

Joe Santos appeared in small roles in a handful of films in the late 1960s, but his first major film was 1971's "The Panic in Needle Park," with Al Pacino and Kiel Martin. Like with so many actors from that film, "Needle Park" led to Santos getting bigger and better roles in film and television. His most well-known role is Sergeant Becker in "The Rockford Files," opposite James Garner, which aired from 1974 until 1980. He reprised the role in eight made-for-TV movies in the 1990s.

At the age of 84, Santos suffered a heart attack. He died several days later, on March 18, 2016, at the age of 84, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Yaphet Kotto (Special Guest Star)

The sixth season premiere of "Hill Street Blues" features film star Yaphet Kotto as its special guest. Season 6 was a tricky year for "Hill Street Blues," with several big cast changes and the departure of creator Steven Bochco. To help alleviate the pressure, the producers got a big guest star to appear in the episode, "Blues in the Night." Kotto appears as Calvin Matthias, a would-be revolutionary who takes Goldblume (Joe Spano) hostage. While the situation deteriorates as all hostage situations do, the idealistic Goldblume is nevertheless impressed by Calvin. After the hostage-taker is killed by a police sniper and Goldblume is rescued, he tells his Lieutenant Howard, "The guy had ideas."

Yaphet Kotto is best known for his roles in "Live and Let Die" and "Alien," as well as his starring role in another groundbreaking cop show, "Homicide: Life on the Street." Following the conclusion of "Homicide," Kotto mostly retired, though he made sporadic appearances in his later years. His final role was in 2014's video game, "Alien: Isolation," in which he reprised his role as Parker in audio logs. Kotto died seven years later, in 2021. He was 81 years old.