The other day I happened to come across the news that Robert Hegyes had died last month. Then I heard that Neil Hope had died five years ago, but his family just found out last month from police.*
I’m sure most people won’t know who these men are, but I have the distinct feeling I’ve lost two friends:
Juan Epstein and Derek “Wheels” Wheeler
Hegyes played Epstein on Welcome Back, Kotter, which went off the air when I was a baby. I didn’t discover the show until I was a teen when it came on Nick at Nite.
Hope played Wheels on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, which I watched on PBS when I was a kid.
I was instantly addicted to both.
My husband has never understood my love for WBK and I understand where he’s coming from. The jokes are corny and the acting, at times, is akin to junior high drama club.
And how could a teen girl in the 1990s from rural Virginia possibly relate to a group of “teen” guys from 1970s Brooklyn who called themselves the Sweathogs?
It made no sense, but I just did.
The same way I felt connected to a group of Canadian teenagers, even though I was only 12 when DH went off the air.
The Sweathogs were misfits, slackers, and always into trouble, but they were also fiercely loyal, inventive, and kind-hearted (deep-down, at least).
Kinda like me and my friends.
The kids of Degrassi were SO real to me. I thought Spike was cool, because she reminded me of one of my teen cousin’s friends, complete with the hair. Joey was one of my first crushes. Arthur and Yick’s friendship was the best (my older bro was skinny w/ glasses and his best friend was husky). And The Zits! What could be better than being in a band with your friends?
It was this relatability that drew me to these shows, that allowed me to make a connection, across country lines and even across decades.
So today I say farewell to two old friends. I’m glad you’ll live on forever in reruns.
*My dad is actually the one who told me about Neil Hope – he asked, “Didn’t you used to watch Degrassi Junior High?” And a few mins later, when I mentioned Robert Hegyes, he said, “I thought you already knew, I would have called and told you earlier.” Love that my dad knows me so well.