John Hillerman
Hillerman in The Betty White Show, 1977
Born(1932-12-20)December 20, 1932
DiedNovember 9, 2017(2017-11-09) (aged 84)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Texas at Austin
Years active1957–1999
Military career
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Air Force
Years of service1953–1957
RankStaff Sergeant
UnitStrategic Air Command

John Benedict Hillerman (December 20, 1932 – November 9, 2017) was an American actor best known for his starring role as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on the television series Magnum, P.I. that aired from 1980 to 1988. For his role as Higgins, Hillerman earned five Golden Globe nominations, winning in 1981, and four Emmy nominations, winning in 1987. He retired from acting in 1999.

Early life and career

Hillerman was born in Denison, Texas, the son of Christopher Benedict Hillerman, a gas station owner, and Lenora Joan (née Medlinger).[1] He was the middle child with two sisters.[2] His father was the grandson of immigrants from Germany and Holland,[3][failed verification] and his mother the daughter of immigrants from Austria and Germany.[3][failed verification] He was a first cousin once removed of author Tony Hillerman. Hillerman developed an interest in opera at the age of ten, and traveled to Dallas to watch Metropolitan Opera productions.[4] He attended St. Xavier's Academy,[4] and after graduation, he attended the University of Texas at Austin for three years, majoring in journalism.[5]

Hillerman served four years in the United States Air Force (1953-1957), working in maintenance in a B-36 wing of the Strategic Air Command, and achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant.[4][6] He became interested in acting after working with a theatrical group in Fort Worth during his service: "I was bored with barracks life. I got into [acting] to meet people in town. A light went on."[4] After his 1957 discharge, he moved to New York City to study at the American Theatre Wing, and performed in professional theater for the next twelve years, in productions such as Henry IV, Part 2 and The Great God Brown.[7] Despite over 100 stage roles,[4] Hillerman was unable to make a living as a stage actor, and he moved to Hollywood in 1969.[4][6]



Hillerman made his film debut in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) in an uncredited role as a reporter.[8] Director Peter Bogdanovich, with whom Hillerman had previously worked during his stage career, cast Hillerman in his films The Last Picture Show; What's Up, Doc?; and Paper Moon.[4] Hillerman worked steadily thereafter in motion pictures and television through the 1970s, including notable supporting roles in the 1974 films Chinatown and Blazing Saddles.[2] After being cast in Magnum, P.I., he shot only four additional pictures between 1980 and 1996, with his final film performance coming in A Very Brady Sequel.


Hillerman and Betty White in a 1977 publicity photo for The Betty White Show

In 1975, Hillerman was a co-star in Ellery Queen as Simon Brimmer, a radio detective who hosted a radio show and tried to outsmart the title character (Jim Hutton).[9]: 305  From 1976 to 1980, he had a recurring role as Mr. Conners on the sitcom One Day at a Time, and he co-starred as Betty White's estranged husband on The Betty White Show (1977–1978).[9] He appeared in season 2, episode 4 of Wonder Woman as a Nazi spy. In 1978, Hillerman also appeared in an episode of Little House on the Prairie called "Harriet's Happenings." In 1979, Hillerman performed on a television pilot for an American version of the British situation comedy Are You Being Served?, Beanes of Boston, as Mr. John Peacock, an American translation of the original British character, Captain Peacock.

He is perhaps best remembered for his role as former British Army Sergeant Major Jonathan Higgins in Magnum, P.I. (1980–1988).[9]: 642  He learned to speak in the character's educated middle/upper class English accent, known as Received Pronunciation or the King's/Queen's English, by listening to a recording of Laurence Olivier reciting Hamlet.[10][note 1] He considered Higgins his favorite role,[11] and described the character in a 1988 interview as "think[ing] he's the only sane character [in the show], and everyone else is stark raving mad."[4] Hillerman recalled in 1984 that he was up for a role in the 1980 Buck Henry/Bob Newhart film First Family and "wanted the part very badly," and had he gotten the role, he would have turned down the role of Higgins.[12]

In 1982, Hillerman starred in the television pilot of Tales of the Gold Monkey, as a German villain named Fritz the Monocle.[13] He hosted the 1984 David Hemmings-directed puzzle video Money Hunt: The Mystery of the Missing Link.[14] In 1990, Hillerman returned to television as Lloyd Hogan in the sixth and final season of the sitcom The Hogan Family.[9]: 465  That same year, he portrayed Dr. Watson to Edward Woodward's Sherlock Holmes in Hands of a Murderer.[13]

In 1993, he appeared in Berlin Break for one season.[10] He played the role of Mac MacKenzie, a former spy and currently the proprietor of Mac's, a bar in West Berlin considered to be neutral territory during the Cold War.[9] Mac teamed up with two jobless spies as investigators: Valentin Renko (Nicholas Clay), an ex-KGB agent, and Willy Richter (Kai Wulff), an ex-BND (West German secret service) operative.[6] The show reunited him with Jeff MacKay, who portrayed "Mac" MacReynolds in Magnum P.I..[15]

Later years and death

After Hillerman retired from acting in 1999, he returned to his home state of Texas.[11] On November 9, 2017, he died of cardiovascular disease at his Houston home, at the age of 84.[2][16]




Year Title Role Notes
1970 They Call Me Mister Tibbs! Reporter Uncredited
1971 Lawman Totts
1971 The Last Picture Show Teacher
1971 Honky
1972 What's Up, Doc? Hotel Manager Kaltenborn
1972 The Carey Treatment Jenkins
1972 Skyjacked Walter Brandt
1972 The Outside Man Department Store Manager
1973 The Thief Who Came to Dinner Edmund Lasker
1973 High Plains Drifter Bootmaker
1973 Paper Moon Deputy Hardin / Jess Hardin
1973 The Naked Ape Psychiatrist
1974 Blazing Saddles Howard Johnson
1974 The Nickel Ride Carl
1974 Chinatown Russ Yelburton
1975 At Long Last Love Rodney James
1975 The Day of the Locust Ned Grote
1975 Lucky Lady McTeague
1977 Audrey Rose Scott Velie
1979 Sunburn Webb
1981 History of the World, Part I Rich Man (The French Revolution)
1984 Up the Creek Dean Burch
1989 Gummibärchen küßt man nicht Padre
1996 A Very Brady Sequel Dr. Whitehead (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1971 Sweet, Sweet Rachel Medical Examiner Television film
1972 The Sixth Sense Adrian Weems Episode: "Once Upon a Chilling"
1972 Mannix Larry Lawton Episode: "Light and Shadow"
1972 The Great Man's Whiskers Major Underwood Television film
1973 Mannix J. H. Morell Episode: "Silent Target"
1974 Maude Drunk Episode: "The Commuter Station"
1974 Kojak Mark Gallant Episode: "The Only Way Out"
1974 The Law Thomas Rachel Television film
1975 Mannix Norman Thompson Episode: "Search for a Dead Man"
1975 The Bob Crane Show Dean Harrington Episode: "The Son of the Campus Capers"
1975–1976 Ellery Queen Simon Brimmer 8 episodes
1976 Serpico Raoul Christie Episode: "Rapid Fire"
1976 Hawaii Five-O Donald Blair Episode: "Man on Fire"
1976 Wonder Woman Conrad Steigler Episode: "Wonder Woman vs Gargantua"
1976–1980 One Day at a Time Mr. Connors 6 episodes
1977 Delvecchio Dr. Augustus Hamilton Episode: "Licensed to Kill"
1977–1978 The Betty White Show John Elliott 14 episodes
1978 Hawaii Five-O Nelson Bodine Episode: "A Stranger in His Grave"
1978 Little House on the Prairie Sterling Murdock Episode: "Harriet's Happening"
1979 The Love Boat Ed Hartnett 2 episodes
1979 Beane's of Boston John Peacock Pilot
1980 Soap Minister Episode: "3.12"
1980 Young Maverick McBurney Episode: "Makin' Tracks"
1980 Hart to Hart Victor Sutter Episode: "Cruise At Your Own Risk"
1980 Tenspeed and Brown Shoe William Whitney Episode: "Diamonds Aren't Forever"
1980 Lou Grant Sturbridge Episode: "Pack"
1980–1988 Magnum, P.I. Jonathan Higgins 158 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (1983, 1985, 1987–1988)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (1984–1986)
1982 Tales of the Gold Monkey Monocle 2 episodes
1982 Simon & Simon Jonathan Higgins Episode: "Emeralds Are Not a Girl's Best Friend"
1983 The Love Boat Manfred Episode: "The Last Case"
1986 Murder, She Wrote Jonathan Higgins Episode: "Magnum on Ice"
1987 Assault and Matrimony Neighbor, Cyril Television film
1989 Around the World in 80 Days Sir Francis Commarty 3 episodes
1990 Hands of a Murderer Dr. John Watson Television film
1990–1991 The Hogan Family Lloyd Hogan 13 episodes
1992 Murder, She Wrote Edgar Greenstreet Episode: "Murder on Madison Avenue"

Awards and nominations

Year Award Nominated work Result
Primetime Emmy Awards
1984 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Magnum, P.I. Nominated[20]
1985 Nominated[21]
1986 Nominated[22]
1987 Won[23]
Golden Globe Awards
1982 Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Magnum, P.I. Won[24]
1983 Nominated[24]
1985 Nominated[24]
1987 Nominated[24]
1988 Nominated[24]


  1. ^ An article about Hillerman in Orange Coast magazine in June 1988 said, "... the accent supplanted a thick drawl. Born and raised in Texas, he [Hillerman] trained away the drawl in a year of intensive work in New York's American Theatre Wing."


  1. ^ "John Hillerman Biography". Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Haas, Matthew (November 9, 2017). "John Hillerman, Snooty Sidekick on 'Magnum, P.I.,' Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Sheff, David (April 18, 1983). "The Lean Years Are Over for John Hillerman, Who's Finding a Magnum of Success in Hawaii". People. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Logan, Dan (June 1988). "John Hillerman Says Goodbye to Magnum, P.I." Orange Coast. pp. 214–215. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  5. ^ Quttman, Monika (June 17, 1987). "'Higgins' Not Really British". The Victoria Advocate. Tribune Media Services. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d "John Hillerman, Emmy-Winning 'Magnum, P.I.' Actor, Dies at 84". Variety. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  7. ^ "("John Hillerman" search results)". Playbill. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  8. ^ "'Magnum, P.I.' Star John Hillerman Dead At 84". TMZ. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  10. ^ a b Conroy, Sarah Booth (June 1, 1986). "John Hillerman". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  11. ^ a b "'Magnum, P.I.' actor John Hillerman dies at 84". Los Angeles Times. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  12. ^ "John Hillerman for "Money Hunt" 1984". YouTube. The Bobbie Wygant Archive.
  13. ^ a b c Barnes, Mike (November 9, 2017). "John Hillerman, Higgins on 'Magnum, P.I.,' Dies at 84". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  14. ^ "Billboard Videocassette Top 40" (PDF). Billboard. September 15, 1984. p. 30. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "'Magnum P.I.' Higgins actor John Hillerman dies at 84". Fox News. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  16. ^ "'Magnum, P.I.' Star Died From Heart Disease". TMZ. December 7, 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  17. ^ "John Hillerman Filmography". FanDango. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  18. ^ "John Hillerman". Hollywood. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  19. ^ "John Hillerman Filmography". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  20. ^ "Nominees/Winners". 1984. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  21. ^ "Nominees/Winners". 1985. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  22. ^ "Nominees/Winners". 1986. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  23. ^ "Nominees/Winners". 1987. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  24. ^ a b c d e "Winners and Nominees: John Hillerman". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved June 10, 2017.