The late John Benedict Hillerman will always be remembered for his role as the ex-British army officer, Jonathan Qualey Higgins III in “Magnum P.I.” After his death, co-star Tom Selleck revealed a lesser-known side to John.
After John passed away from cardiovascular disease on November 9, 2017, Tom Selleck spoke about the man who starred alongside him from 1980 until 1988.
“My image of John between shots was sitting in a director's chair with a cigarette in a long cigarette holder, drinking a Fresca. He always had a Fresca, but he did it all so elegantly,” Tom laughingly told The Hollywood Reporter.
As the imperious ex-British officer hired as caretaker on the estate where Magnum lived, his army khakis, riding crop, and two Dobermans made for a memorable character repeatedly outsmarted by Magnum.
“He was a regular guy, but John — or as we'd call him sometimes, the Great Hildini — had a grand side,” Tom continued. “His idea of a great day was staying in bed, eating caviar and reading a good book.”
With his grand British accent on the show, John even fooled the Brits. “My wife's from England. I would go around London in a cab, and they'd ask, ‘Where's the Brit, John Hillerman, from on your show?’” Tom said. “I'd tell them he was from Denison, Texas. The Brits are always good at spotting funny British accents in shows, and they all thought John was British,” he added.
John was as American as can be, born on December 20, 1932, in Texas, he attended the University of Texas in Austin where he majored in journalism.
To Tom, John had skills that few people fully understood at the time. “As Higgins, he could make people laugh as well as cry — many times in the same scene. That takes a skill that is not often understood,” Tom said.
After Magnum P.I. ended, John’s synonymy with his character Higgins, which earned him four Emmy nominations and one win, probably contributed to the lack of complex roles worthy of his talent after that.
In 1996, John starred in his last feature film as Dr. Whitehead in “A Very Brady Sequel,” while he last appeared on television as Edgar Greenstreet in “Murder, She Wrote” in 1992.
His retirement from the industry came in 1999 whereafter he moved back to Texas until his death.
Perhaps John will feature in Tom Selleck’s memoir he is reportedly working on. It is said to share stories about Tom’s career but also his life behind the camera.
The book will be published through a deal with Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; however, the release date is yet to be announced, as well as the title of his memoir.