November 5, 1957 – October 18, 1984
October 18, 1984. "A day that will live in infamy." At least in my mind — and a bunch of other gay boys of a certain age.
This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the death of mega-hunk, Jon-Erik Hexum.
The event can only be described as tragic — a hot, young, rising star accidentally shoots himself with a prop gun while on the set of his latest TV show. My best friend and I were devastated when we learned of the tragedy. At the time, neither of us knew the other was gay (remember, this was the ’80s and we were kids). Yet for a brief moment, we let down our guard to lament the horrible tragedy: How could someone so young and talented (not to mention handsome) be gone forever?
Over two decades later I would include the incident in my debut novel, Band Fags!
“Oh, my God… Did you see the News?”
Four days later, I’m home in my bedroom talking to Brad on my brand new telephone. Which is just an extension, but still… Finally, I’ve got some privacy!
“I did,” I say in Total Shock. “I can’t even believe it.”
We both just got the official word from Channel 7’s Bill Bonds… “TV star Jon-Erik Hexum has died.”
Apparently, JEH got bored while on the set of Cover Up. So between takes, he started fooling around, putting a .44 Magnum prop gun up to his head. “Let’s see if I’ve got one for me,” he joked. Which became his Famous Last Words as he pulled the trigger.
The impact from the blank fractured his skull, sending a quarter-inch thick fragment into his brain. After being rushed to a nearby hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, he slipped into a coma. With his mother’s permission, Jon-Erik was flown to Las Vegas today — October 18, 1984 — where he was taken off life support and died peacefully. His organs are being donated at his request. He was three weeks shy of his 27th birthday.
In case you weren’t privy to the beauty that was Jon-Erik Hexum, I’ll fill you in on some details…
Born Jon Eric Hexum in Tenafly, NJ on November 5, 1957, JEH (as I fondly like to call him) was the star of the TV series Voyagers! and Cover Up. He also appeared in the made-for-TV movies, The Bear, and Making of a Male Model with Joan Collins.
Proving he was more than just a pretty face, Jon-Erik studied biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University. Soon after, he transferred to Michigan State University where he worked as a radio disc jockey, played football, and acted onstage.
In 1980, a few days after graduating from MSU, JEH moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. While cleaning offices, he met Bob LeMond, manager of John Travolta. In 1981, LeMond invited Jon-Erik to audition for the movie Summer Lovers. He lost the part to Peter Gallagher, but was soon cast as the lead in the NBC show Voyagers!
I remember watching JEH in Voyagers! on television with my dad. I was always crazy about time travel movies (Somewhere in Time, Time After Time, Back to the Future), but clearly it was Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg who got my pubescent heart beating when I first saw this short-lived TV show. Every time that man opened his mouth… My god, the sound of his voice!
JEH as Phineas Bogg in Voyagers!
Like Jack Paterno in Band Fags!, my best friend first introduced me to JEH’s most famous work alongside Ms. Collins.
Hexum as Tyler Burnett in Making of a Male Model
Even though the premise was a tad cheesy (former Vietnam vet-turned detective goes undercover as a male model), you can bet I wasn’t going to miss out on JEH’s final televsion foray, Cover Up with Jennifer O’Neill.
Hexum as Mac Harper in Cover Up
Sadly, Jon-Erik Hexum only appeared in seven out of the eleven episodes of Cover Up before he lost his life on the set. He was replaced by the almost-as-hunky Antony Hamilton, who, sadly, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1995.
25 years later, thinking of him, I still feel a pang for what might have been. Say what you will about models-turned-actors (playing detectives-turned-models), to a young, gay boy coming-of-age in 1980s Middle America, Jon-Erik Hexum was the real deal.
And now for our viewing pleasure…