When Howard Hesseman Was Busted for Marijuana in 1963

Howard Hesseman with Loni Anderson (sitting) and Jan Smithers

In 1979, the New York Times wrote about TV actor Howard Hesseman and his Dr. Johnny Fever DJ character on WKRP in Cincinnati for 80 episodes from 1978-1982:

"Dr. Johnny Fever, as Mr. Hesseman makes clear in his portrayal of the disk Jockey, has ingested a fair share of drugs in his lifetime. He is one of the first characters on commercial television to openly espouse a style of life alien to much of middle America."

Hesseman, who passed away at 81 on Jan. 29, explained in the article:

“I think maybe Johnny smokes a little marijuana, drinks beer and wine and maybe a little hard liquor. And on one of those hard mornings at the station, he might take what for many years was referred to as a diet pill. But be is a moderate user of soft drugs, specifically marijuana."

"The network, needless to say, is terrified about that element,” he added. “But by no means am I advocating drug use. I understand the fears. I have a fair share of friends who are dead because of drugs, or close to it. I just think the fears are overblown.”

Hesseman was born in Oregon in 1940. After college at the Univerity of Oregon, he moved to San Francisco.

According to the Times article, Hesseman spent 90 days in the San Francisco County Jail in 1963 for selling an ounce of pot - "a conviction that was later thrown out for entrapment." The actor supported decriminalization. Asked if he still used marijuana, Hesseman coyly replied, “It's sort of a residual hobby.”

Hesseman actually was a DJ at the underground station KMPX (now KFRC) in San Franciso, where he used the alias Don Sturdy in the late '60s. He joined The Committee, a comedy troupe related to Second City, and became a regular in their Los Angeles company in 1971.

Many of the obits mention the bust and refer to a People magazine interview from 1983 in which Hesseman said he'd conducted “pharmaceutical experiments in recreational chemistry.” CelebStoner has not been able to verify the article. In its own Hesseman obit, People does not mention the quote. 

A popular TV actor, Hesseman also appeared on Head of the Class (96 eps), One Day at a Time (16 eps), Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (13 eps) and The New WKRP in Cincinnati (10 eps from 1991-1993). He was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor Emmys for playing the fun-loving  Johnny Fever.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.