They Died Too Young

By Charlie Daniels, author of the UK best-selling book Priceless My Journey
Through A Life Of Vice – in which the hit cop show is mentioned
.
 

Michael Conrad played the unforgettable desk sergeant Phil Esterhaus. As the adorable sergeant, he brought a sensitive, calming influence amongst all the haste, chaos and drama and was known for his subtle turn of phrase.

During the fourth series in 1983, Conrad became seriously ill but he didn’t let urethral cancer stop him going to work. He wanted to be surrounded by his “on set family” and he passed away during the shooting of the police drama. Charles Haid (Andy “Cowboy” Renko) said “he died in the saddle”

Esterhaus was written out of the show in a moving episode called Grace Under Pressure in which he dies making love to Grace Gardner. When the sergeant’s cause of death is announced, Andy Renko can be heard saying - “Damn that was a good way to check out”

His successor Robert Prosky (Stan Jablonski) hard had shoes to fill so thankfully was written as an entirely different character and changed the famous roll call end phrase from "Let's be careful out there!" to "Let's do it to them before they do it to us."

Born October 16th 1925, New York City
Passed away: November 22, 1983, Los Angeles, California aged 58
Won two Best Supporting Actor Emmy Awards, 1981 and 1982
 


René Enríquez was a Nicaraguan-born actor and according to IMDB the nephew of General Emiliano Chamorro, one-time president of Nicaragua.

Enríquez played the Hill’s Latino captain Lt. Ray Calletano. A character often caught between the open racial ignorance of Lt. Howard Hunter and his inability to rise in the department.

Enríquez died of pancreatic cancer, the same year as Kiel Martin also passed away.

Born Nov 24th 1933 Granada, Nicaragua
Passed away March 23rd 1990, Tarzana, California, aged 56
 



Kiel Martin was best known for his role as lovable-loser, rogue Detective John La Rue. Known as JD on the Hill, his trademark Italian shoes were as cheap as his chat up lines and his Rolex as fake as his integrity. JD showed the darker and more complex effects of being a cop. JD was a real sleaze too, if it moved he tried to “nail it” and one particular encounter with the glamorous Joyce Davenport is one rebuttal not to be missed.

Real life mirrored his on screen battles - chain smoking, heavy drinking and twice divorced – he wasn’t so much acting as revealing his own soul. Martin’s first wife was the daughter of actor/crooner Dean Martin.

It was eventually a bitter battle with lung cancer which finally took his life. Martin was once in contention for the lead role in the Oscar winning film Midnight Cowboy. He also acted alongside Robert Mitchum in the movie Moonrunners, which inspired the TV series Dukes of Hazzard. Like many others in the series, he also starred in iconic TV favourites - Perry Mason and Ironside.

Born Kiel Urban Mueller, July 26th Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Passed away December 28th, 1990 Rancho Mirage, California, aged 46 years
 



Trinidad Silva (JR) played the Diablo’s gang leader Jesus Martinez. Known for his catchphrase “hey Frankie!”

Jesus was a clued up character (*spoiler alert*) who later in the series transformed, when he switched sides to work for the justice department.

In 1988 he and his family were involved in a serious car accident. Silva was killed at just aged 38 years old. Silva’s wife and son escaped with only minor injuries. The driver of the other vehicle pleaded guilty to drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter. The film he was making at the time, UHF was later dedicated to his name. Michael Warren who played Bobby Hill believed Silva died on the verge of becoming a huge star.

Born January 30th 1950, Mission, Texas
Passed away 31st July 1988, Whittier, California (aged 38)
 

Another superb image by Joe Young produced especially for this website
 
Charlie Daniels can be found here  www.chat2charlie.co.uk
 
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