Frank Bonner, star of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ dead at 79

Frank Bonner, who played Herb Tarlek on the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” has died. He was 79.

Bonner passed away “peacefully” Wednesday amid a battle with Lewy body dementia, his family told TMZ.

As Herb on “WKRP” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bonner was the quintessential salesman in a gaudy plaid suit and white loafers, despite struggling as a radio station sales manager who consistently failed to reel in the big accounts.

The actor turned to directing in a few episodes of “WKRP” and later reprised the role in the early ’90s spinoff “The New WKRP in Cincinnati.”

Frank Bonner, Loni Anderson in a typically saucy scene from "WKRP in Cincinnati."
Frank Bonner and Loni Anderson in a typically wacky scene from the classic sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
Courtesy Everett Collection

He wore both hats again in “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” playing recurring character Mr. Harrington. Bonner went on to direct several of the decade’s biggest sitcoms, including “Who’s the Boss?,” “Head of the Class” and “Newhart,” starring comedy legend Bob Newhart.

Bonner’s thrill-seeking saw him on crutches on an episode of “WKRP” after he was injured in a parasailing accident, falling 20 feet and suffering many internal and back injuries.

His “WKRP” castmate Gary Sandy, 75, was the show’s first co-star to pay homage via social media with a short message on Facebook: “It Is True! Frank Pasted Away, Yesterday June 16th at 3:48 Pacific Time RIP My Great Friend!!!”


His passing has inspired condolences and praise — especially for his suits — from fans and media professionals alike on social media. “Very sad news for me. I loved working with him,” wrote SiriusXM radio host Michael Des Barres. “Impeccable timing as a comedic actor and a really nice man. RIP.”

Said singer and CBC broadcaster Julie Nesrallah, “RIP Frank Bonner. Perfectly cast. Decorating the heavens with plaid suits at that great radio station in the sky.”

Tim Parent, news director at Calgary, Canada’s 660 News, concluded that “WKRP” was “was a documentary, not a sitcom” — though he couldn’t say the same for Tarlek’s attire.

Said Parent, “Every #radio sales department has someone like Herb Tarlek (only with nicer suits.) RIP Frank Bonner.”

Frank Bonner (right) with Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman (left)
Frank Bonner (right), pictured here with Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman on the set of “The New WKRP in Cincinnati.”
Courtesy Everett Collection
Frank Bonner attends Griffith Park Observatory Museum Foundation Benefit on May 13, 1996 in Los Angeles, California
Frank Bonner at the Griffith Park Observatory Museum Foundation Benefit in 1996 in Los Angeles.
Ron Galella Collection via Getty

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