Bobby grew up in Metuchen, N.J., and my brothers Jim and Pete and I knew him from our high school days. I played football with Bobby on the Metuchen High team. He was a fierce competitor and a force of nature on the field as well as off. He caught the acting bug early and performed not only in school productions but in "Summer Theater Under the Stars" at nearby Roosevelt Park. Bobby pursued his education and career in acting with the same intensity and dedication that he applied to most things in his life.
|"Hey, Mr. Kotter, I got a note!"|
Everyone in Metuchen was thrilled when Bobby landed a starring role on a network TV series in 1975. Bobby was only 24 when "Welcome Back Kotter" premiered. He played one of the "Sweathogs," a foursome of incorrigible and wise-cracking high school students who amuse, challenge, and learn life's lessons from their beloved mentor/teacher, Mr. Kotter.
Bobby performed the role of Juan Epstein, a Puerto Rican Jew from a large family who had Latin good-looks and great comic timing. His co-stars included Gabe Kaplan as Mr. Kotter, and John Travolta, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Ron Palillo as the other three sweathogs.
Back in July of 2006, when I married Annie Malley, Bobby and his wife Cynthia Wylie attended the wedding. In the wedding photo above, my brother Jim Ruegger, Bobby and Cynthia share a laugh during Paul Rugg's performance of "Manny the Uncanny."
Bobby was charismatic, infinitely likable and one-of-a-kind.
Thanks for the laughs, Bobby. You will be missed by your family, your friends and your fans.