When former President Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, met actor Dwayne Hickman, he said, "Oh, my gosh — it's Dobie Gillis! I grew up with you!" Hickman, who played the titular character in the hit 1959-63 TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 87 and surrounded by family members, according to a statement from the family.
Hickman's TV and movie career ebbed and flowed through the 1970s, and he went on to work as a talent director a the Howard Hughes–owned Las Vegas Landmark Hotel casino, then a program director at CBS, overseeing M.A.S.H., Dukes of Hazzard, Designing Women, and Maude, The Associated Press reports. He started studying painting in the late 1980s. But for many people he was always Gillis, the lovesick teenager who never quite got the girl.
"Now it's nice," Hickman told a reporter in 2003, during an exhibition of his paintings in St. Louis. "It's very sweet to see how much Dobie Gillis meant to a lot of baby boomers, who are always nice when I meet them."
Hickman was born in Los Angeles in 1934, and like his older brother, veteran character actor Darryl Hickman, he began acting as a child. He had given up by 1950, though, and had begun studying art and architecture at Loyola University when his old agent called and roped him into a supporting role on The Bob Cummings Show, which ran from 1955 to 1959.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was an instant success, with its clever scripts and a cast that also included Bob Denver, Warren Beatty, and Tuesday Weld. Gillis spent the show in futile attempts to win over one girl after another — then ruminating on his failures and life in front of Rodin's "The Thinker" — never realizing he had his own unrequited lover, Sheila James Kuehl's Zelda Gilroy. Kuehl, who went on to server several terms in the California Senate, called Hickman "a standup, sweet guy until the end."
Hickman is survived by his third wife, Joan Roberts, and sons John and Albert.