Frank Bonner, Brash Salesman on ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ Dies at 79

Frank Bonner, the actor best known for playing Herb Tarlek, the brash salesman with an affection for plaid polyester suits, on the popular television comedy “WKRP in Cincinnati,” died on Wednesday at his home in Laguna Niguel, Calif., south of Los Angeles. He was 79.

His daughter, Desiree Boers-Kort, said the cause was complications of Lewy body dementia. He had learned he had the disease, which leads to worsening mental and physical complications, about three years ago.

“WKRP in Cincinnati,” seen on CBS from 1978 to 1982, was set at a struggling radio station trying to reinvent itself with a rock format. The cast included Gary Sandy as the embattled station manager and Tim Reid and Howard Hesseman as disc jockeys. Mr. Bonner’s character, the station’s sales manager, was known for his obnoxious behavior, his general incompetence and his garish wardrobe.

Loni Anderson, who played Jennifer Marlowe, the station’s super-efficient receptionist — and the frequent object of Herb’s heavy-handed flirting — said in a statement that Mr. Bonner was “one of the funniest men I had the pleasure of working with” and “the nicest man I have ever known.”

Ms. Boers-Kort said that Mr. Bonner valued his time acting on “WKRP in Cincinnati” in part because it led him toward the career he preferred: directing. After serving as the director of six episodes of “WKRP,” he went on to direct episodes of more than a dozen other shows in the 1980s and ’90s, including “Who’s the Boss?,” “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” and “Just the Ten of Us” (on which he also had a recurring role).

Mr. Bonner reprised the role of Herb on the syndicated sequel “The New WKRP in Cincinnati” in the early 1990s. He was also seen on “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” “Night Court” and many other shows.

Frank Bonner was born Frank Boers Jr. on Feb. 28, 1942, in Little Rock, Ark., and raised in the city of Malvern. His Hollywood career began in 1967 and picked up steam in 1970 with roles in the film “Equinox” and on the TV series “The Young Lawyers” and “Nancy.” He appeared on “Mannix,” “Police Woman,” “Fantasy Island” and other shows before landing the career-defining role of Herb Tarlek.

In addition to Ms. Boers-Kort, his daughter, Mr. Bonner is survived by his wife, Gayle Hardage Bonner. She had been his high school sweetheart in Malvern, his daughter said, and they reunited and eventually wed four decades later. His four previous marriages ended in divorce.

His survivors also include two sons, Matthew and Justin; a stepdaughter, DeAndra Freed; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. Another son, Michael, died before Mr. Bonner.

Mr. Bonner got a kick out of Herb’s ill-advised wardrobe, his daughter said, because he knew that the character’s style was “one of the things that people loved about him.” She said he kept some of Herb’s distinctive white belts when the show ended.

The New York Times contributed reporting.

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