[tv] Remembering Magnum P.I.’s John Hillerman, the World’s Best Phony Englishman … very sad to hear about the death of John Hillerman. RIP.
Higgins was set up to be Magnum’s stooge—the short, supercilious prig who Magnum repeatedly outsmarted, and in whose reflection our hero could shine still brighter. But as played by John Hillerman with a genuine sense of dignity and steely righteousness, Higgins was no joke; you loved him because he truly believed in a classical world of order and rules-following, and he wasn’t about to cede all of that tradition to a handsome young firecracker in a Hawaiian shirt. And every so often, Higgins would a deliver a barb that succeeded in cutting Magnum down to size. The smirk from Hillerman that would invariably follow was a thing of beauty and triumph—and a gentle exhortation to those of us suffering through grade school that the golden boys weren’t always going to be the ones who glowed.
Until he died last Thursday at the age of 84 in Houston, I confess that I had no idea that Hillerman—who was born in Denison, majored in journalism at UT Austin, and then retired back to Texas in 1999—wasn’t actually British. That’s one definition of a great performance, when an actor so wholly inhabits a part that viewers assume he must just be playing a variation of himself. (In real life, Hillerman reportedly spoke with a faint Texas drawl—akin to his character Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles.)