Frank Bonner, 'WKRP in Cincinnati' Star, Dead at 79

Frank Bonner, who starred as sales manager Herb Barlek on WKRP in Cincinnati, died on Wednesday, his friend and co-star Gary Sandy confirmed. Bonner died from complications of Lewy body dementia, his family told TMZ. His family was by his side at the time of his death. Bonner was 79.

Bonner was born Frank Boers Jr. in Little Rock, Arkansas on Feb. 28, 1942, and began acting in 1967. He made his debut in the cult classic independent movie The Equinox ... A Journey into the Unknown, which was later released as Equinox in 1970. Throughout the 1970s, he appeared in episodes of Mannix, The FBI, Hawkins, Emergency!, and Cannon. In 1978, he earned the biggest role of his career as Herb Barlek in WKRP in Cincinnati. He appeared in almost every episode of the classic sitcom, which ran until 1982. He reprised the role in the 1991-1993 spin-off The New WKRP in Cincinnati.

frank bonner getty images
(Photo: CBS via Getty Images)

While the original WKRP aired, Bonner survived a parachute accident. In 1978, he was hanging from an "ascendancy parachute" towed by a four-wheel-drive vehicle at the El Mirage Dry Lake Recreational Area. The parachute collapsed due to surprisingly strong winds. He suffered internal and back injuries, which forced him to use crutches for a time.

After the original WKRP wrapped, Bonner remained a frequent guest star on television through the early 1990s. He could be seen in episodes of Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, Night Court, Murder She Wrote, and Evening Shade. He also had a recurring role as Mr. Harrington in Saved by the Bell: The New Class. He starred in five episodes of the series. Bonner also directed episodes of WKRP, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, The Van Dyke Show, and Head of the Class.

"A remarkable member of one of my favorite ensemble TV comedy casts," one fan wrote on Twitter. "If you work/worked in radio, you know/knew at least one account exec who was exactly like #HerbTarlek. RIP #FrankBonner," another wrote. "My fondest memory of #FrankBonner was as the director of one the first episodes of TV I ever wrote, who was kind, funny, encouraging & just a joy to be around," one fan recalled. "He even recruited my parents & sister as prominent background actors for my episode. He was a good man."


Bonner was married and divorced four times before he reunited with his high school sweetheart, Gayle Hardage, reports The Hollywood Reporter. They married in 2006. He is survived by his two daughters, two sons, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.