Stories from the people that knew Jack before he became a star.
One May day he heard a screaming coming from the cafeteria. "My Lord," he recalls thinking, "there must be a fight in there." When he went to check, who was it but Jack Hexum! "He'd walked into the cafeteria and created a mob scene. I mean, Reggie Jackson came to Tenafly and no one screamed."
Well, gee, let's see. Hmm. This:
Uh, yeah. No contest!
"He was so totally straight that in the early days everybody thought he was a narc. He was the sort who wore white socks and black shoes until his junior year."
By his senior year, he'd become Mr. Everything: He was president of the senior class, master of ceremonies at the Holiday Show, the first boy in the school's history to become a cheerleader. He acted in school plays and started the school radio station.
"He had virtues that seemed to me had no place in the world anymore - about making yourself a better person, physically and academically. He worked so hard." - People Magazine 10/29/84
Jack was blessed with a booming sub-bass voice. That got him several late night disc jockey jobs as Yukon Jack, some of which he lost because of his flippant ways. "He was obviously very talented. But he needed a sense of direction. He's better off with what he's doing now, where there's a director right there."
In his senior year, he played the king in Pippen after taking lessons from local voice teacher Kay Hickey. He'd never acted, but told Hickey he was going to be a star.
"I heard that voice and looked at that face and decided if anyone could do it, he could."
"Jack and I were friends throughout middle and high school. We juggled and rode unicycles together. We were both on the track team (although at different events) and we sang in the high school choir and several shows together. I was tickled by his fame and very happy for his success. When I married in Los Angeles in 1985, I couldn't help but remember Jack, and wish I'd been able to invite him to my wedding."
That's Dave on the far right!
"Jack always made us smile. I met Jack when we were in the 6th grade, and I had the pleasure of going through high school with him. During all those years spent together, there was only one time I can remember where he didn't make me laugh. Whenever I was down, just knowing I'd see Jack and that he'd probably pull some crazy antic out of his bag of tricks, made going to school worthwhile. Jack was a wonderful kid, and I was proud of him, for going as far as he did.
"When I heard of his passing, I felt like I'd lost a part of my youth. I share my tales of Jack with my grown children. I'm glad I still have my senior yearbook to reflect on, because, after all these years, Jack is still making me smile. Thanks Jack!"
I grew up in Jon’s hometown of Tenafly, NJ. When I knew him he was known as Jack. We were close friends probably sometime around 1979. He was a very popular and outgoing figure at Tenafly High School and if memory serves me well he was a very multifaceted guy. He had a background in gymnastics and diving and was the drum major of the marching band which was greatly assisted by his dynamic and humorous presence. He would lead the band with gymnastics and tumbling and wild displays of physical talent.
I knew him because I was a competitive springboard diver from the age of about 5 years until I went to college. For 2 years he was my diving coach in Tenafly and he taught me a hell of a lot about mid-air control and multi-twisting dives. But the guy was really a health freak. At the time I was a 14-year-old freshman and he was a senior. When I would train for competitions he would routinely triple whatever regimen I would go through to get in shape. I would do 100 push-ups; he would do 300. I would ride my bicycle 50 miles; he would jog alongside me. This guy was a physical specimen to say the least and I think it was all because he was just a really motivated person.
At the end of one particular summer the diving league I was in held a coaches meet wherein the divers judges our coaches in competition. Jack won the meet besting 10 other coaches by throwing a four-and-a-half off a three meter diving board. This is a feat that very few accomplish and because of it we the young judges gave him all “10s”. He wiped away the field and won the grand prize of a mounted trophy featuring the bronzed image of the rear end of a horse and $200.Nonetheless Jack was a great role model and a terrific person. I was greatly saddened to hear about his tragic accident. The town of Tenafly was utterly stunned. I will always remember him in a very positive way.
"We met when I was working on my car, as usual. I was underneath the car, when all of a sudden there was this really deep voice. 'Hello.'"
Goenner got to know Jack in subsequent months, working on Jack's 1954 Chevy Bel-Air, and he got to hear a lot of piano playing into the night. "He was very, very good."
He remembers observing Jack's "pit stops", blasting up in his car, careening into his house on the run, reappearing moments later in a change of clothes and heading off on another errand.
"I came to town and paid for a rental agency thing, and got a listing and a phone number. I called, talked to his mother. She just said I'd be living with a 26 year old man, she didn't tell me anything about him. A couple weeks later, I met him, we talked. I used to watch Voyagers!, but I didn't recognize him. And I rented a room.
When I moved in, he had a plate, two bowls, a couple of glasses, a frying pan and a small pan for boiling water, and that was all. The only thing he ever had in the refrigerator was juice. He never ate in the house. The only time his bed was ever made was when his girlfriend stayed over."
One night Jack and Tuma were watching the 11:00pm news, "And the announcer said, 'Are you registered (to vote)?'" Jack was apparently in the habit of talking back to television screens, usually semi-serious goofs. This time, though, he was dead serious. "No," he answered.
The television station gave a series of locations where would-be voters could still sign up. Jack's knowledge of city geography was still a little shaky, and the only location was a West Los Angeles address that happened to be Democratic Party headquarters. Jack darted out to his car - Tuma came along - "and drove like a maniac all over town" from Burbank to West L.A., where he walked into Democratic Party headquarters before midnight and asked to register. The registrar on duty filled out the whole form, then asked Jack which party. "Republican." The registrar hesitated. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to vote that way."
Tuma remembers that running a studio, with the first stage a production company, was the ambition Jack intended his money for, which was why he was extremely tightfisted about spending money on himself.
In addition to paying roommates, there were other economies. Tuma tried to get him to replace an antique, decrepit phone answering machine, pointing out it was both a necessary business tool and a deduction. It was still money out of Jack's pocket, and he kept the old one. Tuma once asked him why he didn't have a nice place with some furniture, and Jack replied, "This is just where I sleep."
He spent hours after shooting wrapped hanging around the lot learning whatever he could. And he loved it. "I asked him, 'Why don't you take a vacation?" "This is a vacation," he replied.
There was one thing that Jack wasn't, and that was mechanically inclined. "Not at all. I had to show him how to use the washing machine. He really didn't know a spark plug wire from a spark plug, He did know that blank charges were dangerous. He told Tuma that he'd seen the blast come out when he fired weapons, as he had done often in the course of doing the show.
"I met Jon-Erik when he was a bouncer at a Sunset Blvd. rock'n'roll nightclub (either the old Club Lingerie or the old Central), and I was an underage publicity person for a band. He used to make sure I got to my car safely. I remember a few times being scared to death riding on the handlebars of his bike back to his place, or to a soul food restaurant that was open after the clubs closed. He was fun, and sweet.
I remember the restaurant was long established, right around the corner from the club, and was run by an elderly black couple. I still remember the lady wearing ratty slippers on her feet!"
Thanks, Yvonne. You confirmed for us what we already knew, that Jack was a gentleman deep down. And I can just picture the big goofball chauffeuring you around on the handlebars of his bike! Great story!
"I was the Managing Director of Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York for the 1981 (?) summer season. I hired Jon-Erik Hexum to play the male lead in "Molly Brown" the year before he went to Hollywood to become a TV star.
My memories of Jon-Erik are simply wonderful. A kinder, more generous soul there never was. And what a voice !!! Glorious!! He had a huge baritone singing voice which thrilled every listener in the summer stock tent that year (as well as every girl within a 2 mile radius!)
We knew he was destined for greater things and that he was just "dabbling" in our world for three months, but I was honored that he accepted our contract for work that year and that we we blessed with his presence those hot, mid-summer months."
Okay, whoever has video of this, please come forward. Jack's fans have been dying to hear that golden voice, since forever!
I always knew him as Jack, and must admit I was amused when he changed his name to Jon-Erik. It was obvious to me that it wasn't his idea because he was so not a Jon-Erik. We went to the Methodist church in Tenafly NJ as boys/teenagers, and he was just a fun, honest guy. He definitely didn't take himself too seriously. He also became a terrific somersaulting cheerleader at high school football games, so you knew his hugely playful spirit was stronger than any embarrassment at dressing like a cheerleader.
My get-well letter returned to me from the hospital when he was comatose and I still haven't opened it. So I guess you could say if Jack didn't have you swooning, he'd have you laughing, and nobody would laugh harder if it was at his expense.
Recently, I have been in contact with some of Jack's friends from Tenafly, and especially his classmates from Tenafly High School, and I have to say, they are the nicest bunch of people you could ever want to talk to.
So from the bottom of my heart, I send a great big thank you to the people of Tenafly and THS, for your kindness, generosity, and for talking to this crazy woman on the Internet. You're the best! -KC
If you knew Jack personally, please email me at [email protected], and we'll get your story put up here. We'd love to hear from you!