‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ star was 87

January 9, 2022
Dwayne Hickman, star of TV's "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," has died at 87.
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Dwayne Hickman, who starred as the perpetually besotted high schooler at the center of TV’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” has died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Hickman, 87, died Sunday morning at home in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family, his publicist Harlan Boll told USA TODAY in a statement. 

The LA native, born May 18, 1934, launched his career at age 6 as an extra in “The Grapes of Wrath,” following in the footsteps of his older brother, child actor Darryl Hickman with early roles in “Captain Eddie” and “The Boy with the Green Hair,” as well as TV’s “The Lone Ranger” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” He studied at Loyola Marymount University, eventually earning his economics degree, then returned to acting as a regular on TV’s “The Bob Cummings Show” as Cummings’ nephew Chuck MacDonald.

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For four seasons starting in 1959, Hickman headlined his own series as the titular teen of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” the groundbreaking series that revolved around teens, rather than their parents, based on the short stories by humorist Max Shulman. Dobie’s life goals were to be rich, popular and attract gorgeous girls. Hickman starred opposite Bob Denver (the future first mate of “Gilligan’s Island”) as his goateed best buddy Maynard G. Krebs, with Tuesday Weld as an out-of-his-league love interest, and Warren Beatty as a handsome, rich rival.

After the show’s run, he struggled with typecasting and stepped back into teen idol roles, starring in 1965’’s “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” with Annette Funicello and “Ski Party” with Frankie Avalon, as well as “Cat Ballou” with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. At one point, he worked as the entertainment director for Howard Hughes’s Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas.

In the 1970s, Hickman returned to TV as a network executive with CBS, supervising the development of hits such as “Maude” and “M*A*S*H,” and went on to direct half-hour comedies such as “Designing Women,” “Charles in Charge” and “Sister, Sister.” He met his wife, Joan Roberts, when she had a role on the network’s “Private Benjamin,” and they married in 1983.

His many TV roles include “Clueless,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The Flying Nun” and “The Mod Squad,” and he toured the country in stage productions of “Barefoot in the Park,” “Star Spangled Girl” and “6 Rms Riv Vu.” In the 1980s, he studied oil painting, and his work eventually found its way into art galleries and collections.

But he could never entirely shake Dobie and would play the grown version of the character in the TV movies “Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?” (1977) and “Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis” (1988). His 1994 memoir was titled “Forever Dobie: The Many Lives of Dwayne Hickman.”

“Oh, my gosh, it’s Dobie Gillis! I grew up with you!” former President Clinton told him when the two met while Clinton was governor of Arkansas.

“Now, it’s nice,” Hickman told a reporter in 2003. “It’s very sweet to see how much Dobie Gillis meant to a lot of baby boomers, who are always nice when I meet them.”

Contributing: Steve Jones, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press

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