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Richard Herd, a baffled boss on ‘Seinfeld,’ is dead at 87

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 1978
                                Richard Herd, middle, portrayed Gen. Omar Bradley in “Ike,” a made-for-TV miniseries which featured a reenactment of the Allied landing at Omaha Beach, alongside lead actor Robert Duvall, right, and Paul Gleason as Tex.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / 1978

    Richard Herd, middle, portrayed Gen. Omar Bradley in “Ike,” a made-for-TV miniseries which featured a reenactment of the Allied landing at Omaha Beach, alongside lead actor Robert Duvall, right, and Paul Gleason as Tex.

Richard Herd, who played lawmen, tough guys, a general, an alien commander and a Watergate burglar, but was best known as Mr. Wilhelm, George Costanza’s supervisor, on “Seinfeld,” died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 87.

His wife, Patricia (Crowder) Herd, an actress, said the cause was complications of colon cancer.

As Wilhelm, a New York Yankees executive who reported to the team’s owner, George Steinbrenner (voiced by Larry David), Herd brought a grandfatherly and slightly daffy demeanor to his dealings with George (played by Jason Alexander), the lazy assistant to the Yankees’ traveling secretary.

He was sometimes concerned that George was working too hard or cracking under pressure. But he also accused him of theft when he perspired under questioning, which George attributed to spicy Chinese food.

In one episode, Wilhelm is abducted by a cult that uses a carpet cleaning service as a front. When told by George — who is angry that the cult did not want to brainwash him — that he is a hostage, he responds: “Wilhelm? My name is Tania” — the alias that the heiress Patty Hearst used after being kidnapped by terrorists in 1974.

Herd, a veteran movie and television character actor who had moved from project to project since 1970, appeared in 11 episodes of “Seinfeld” from 1995 to 1998, raising his profile considerably.

“‘Seinfeld’ was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he told USA Today in 2015. “It got me a tremendous amount of recognition and still does, because it plays all the time.”

Herd was also known for roles on several science-fiction series, among them Supreme Commander John on the miniseries “V” in 1983 and its sequel the next year; L’Kor, a Klingon, on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; and Admiral William Noyce on “Seaquest 2032.”

Richard Thomas Herd was born on Sept. 26, 1932, in Boston. His father, Richard, was a railroad worker who died while serving in the Army during World War II. His mother, Katherine (Lydon) Herd, was a homemaker. After her husband’s death, she married Pehr Swenson, an auto mechanic.

As a boy, Herd received a diagnosis of osteomyelitis, a bone infection, forcing him to leave public school for the Industrial School for Crippled and Deformed Children in Boston (now the Cotting School in Lexington, Mass.) for three years. He later said that his time recovering at the school and in a hospital, until he was treated successfully with penicillin, stimulated his imagination.

He began to act on radio and onstage as a teenager, and he studied for a time with Claude Rains at the Boston Summer Theater. He served briefly in the Army during the Korean War until a flare-up of osteomyelitis led to an honorable discharge; he then began a long period of acting off-Broadway and in regional theater.

In 1970 he was cast in his first film, “Hercules in New York,” whose star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also making his movie debut.

He stayed busy for nearly 50 years. He had roles in the miniseries “Ike: The War Years” (1979), as Gen. Omar Bradley; “The China Syndrome” (1979), as the head of the utility that owns the nuclear plant that avoids a catastrophe; “All the President’s Men” (1976), as Watergate burglar James W. McCord Jr.; and the TV series “T.J. Hooker,” “Quantum Leap” and “Desperate Housewives.”

He also played Willy Loman in a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at the Ventura Court Theatre Alliance in 1995. His wife played Willy’s wife, Linda.

In 2017, Herd played the founder of a cult in one scene in Jordan Peele’s acclaimed horror film “Get Out.”

“I asked him to think of the scene as a Viagra ad trying to hide deep rage,” Peele wrote on Twitter after Herd’s death. “He responded, ‘That sounds like all Viagra ads to me!’ Then he absolutely nailed it.”

In addition to his wife, Herd is survived by his daughter, Erica Driggers; his son, Rick; his stepdaughter, Alicia Ruskin; and two step-grandchildren. His marriages to Amilda Tachibana and Dolores Wozadlo ended in divorce.

Herd — who was also a painter and sculptor — nearly didn’t get the “Seinfeld” role as a Yankees executive. Or at least he worried that he wouldn’t.

After an audition that appeared to have gone well, he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, he turned to leave and said: “Look I have to tell you this. I hope it doesn’t make a difference, but I’m a Red Sox fan.” In response, he recalled, “They all threw their scripts at me.”

“The next day,” he added, “they said, ‘Come on out and play with us.’ ”

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