Encore

The Suicide Of A Sidekick

The ''Fantasy Island'' actor who played Tattoo shot himself in 1993

On ABC's Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize played Tattoo, an angelic half-pint who listened intently as his enigmatic boss, Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), served up prime-time-friendly homilies. But off camera, the 3'11'' actor seemingly had trouble applying those secrets of happiness to his own life. At 50, despondent over medical problems stemming from his size, Villechaize fatally shot himself at his North Hollywood, Calif., home on Sept. 4, 1993 — just one year after nearly dying from pneumonia. A 1983 autobiography proposal prefigured his tragic demise: ''I dread dying. But I will die. In not too many tomorrows.''

Indeed, Villechaize's life was no tropical idyll. The Paris-born art student scraped by with minor stage and film roles for almost two decades before landing on Fantasy Island in 1977. The hit show turned Villechaize into a larger-than-life character thanks to his catchphrase, ''De plane! De plane!'' But while he playfully embraced his sudden stardom, Villechaize also exhibited a melancholy side. ''He was so charming and funny on the set,'' recalls Island exec producer Aaron Spelling, ''and then you'd find him down by the river, just staring at the water.'' In 1982, he made tabloid headlines when his second wife accused him of firing a pistol at her.

After Villechaize left Island in 1983 over a salary dispute, his career fizzled out save for a 1992 Dunkin' Donuts commercial (''De plain! De plain!''). Increasingly plagued by pain, he would end his sweet-and-sour life the following year. ''There was something inside Herve that none of us could pierce,'' laments Spelling. ''I still haven't figured it out. He was an even bigger mystery than Roarke.''


SEPT. 4, 1993

The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford (right) and Tommy Lee Jones and based on the '60s TV series, outruns its competition. The $184 million-grossing film will spawn a sequel, scheduled for 1998: U.S. Marshals, in which Jones will return as lawman Sam Gerard. REGGAE OCTET UB40 hit No. 1 with their fifth Top 40 cover: Elvis' ''Can't Help Falling in Love,'' which itself had peaked at No. 2 in 1961. ARDENT READERS keep Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County on the best-seller list for the 55th straight week (out of 161). In 1995's film, directed by Clint Eastwood, the ex-Dirty Harry would play Sensitive Guy photographer Robert Kincaid. ROSEANNE BEGINS ITS sixth season in TV's top 4. Four years later, as the sitcom ends, its eponymous star would land her own syndicated talk show, to debut in 1998. AND IN THE REAL WORLD, Polish Pope John Paul II pays his first visit to the former Soviet Union, landing in Lithuania 606 years after the region adopted Catholicism.

Originally posted Aug 22, 1997 Published in issue #393-394 Aug 22, 1997 Order article reprints