R.I.P. Frank Bonner, the colorful Herb Tarlek of WKRP in Cincinnati

The Arkansas native played one of the great characters of Seventies sitcoms.

The Everett Collection

Frank Bonner was born Frank Woodrow Boers Jr. and named after his father, a saxophone player who married a singer named Mamie Grace. The Arkansas family had showbiz in its blood. 

Frank Jr. was still going by his given name when he made his acting debut, in The Equinox: Journey into the Supernatural, a short Sixties horror film made by Pasadena City College students. The filmmakers got a modest four-figure budget to expand the flick to a feature, which shortened its name to Equinox. The 1970 movie, with its demons and monsters, became a cult favorite.

From there, Frank took the name Bonner and picked up small roles on television, popping up on Mannix and The Young Lawyers. He remained a bit player on TV for most of the decade, later landing bit parts on Emergency!, Cannon and Police Woman.

In 1978, Bonner scored his big break, grabbing the role of Herb Tarlek on the subversive rock 'n' roll sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.

Bonner stood out, and not just due to his loud plaid blazers. His salesman character was brash, boorish and rather tacky, which, naturally, made him one of the great supporting characters in Seventies television. There was a little of Bonner in Tarlek, who kept an Arkansas Razorbacks mug on his WKRP desk in honor of his home state.

There's a famous line from the show in the second-season episode "Put Up or Shut Up" where Venus Flytrap tells Herb Tarlek, who dependably wears tacky suit after tacky suit, "Somewhere out there, there's a Volkswagen with no seats." Apparently, Herb really did wear a suit on the show that was made out of Volkswagen seat covers.

Tarlek was the center of one of the great episodes in the series, "Real Families," when the Tarlek clan is selected to go on a reality show. That was pioneering stuff in 1980.

Bonner became so well known as Tarlek that he became rather typecast, reprising the role a decade later in The New WKRP in Cincinnati (1991–93). In between, he did have a recurring role on the TGIF sitcom Just the Ten of Us, where he played the headmaster of a Catholic school.

Behind the scenes, Bonner worked as a director, getting his start behind the camera for a handful of WKRP episodes. He would also direct episodes of Head of the Class, reuniting him with his old WKRP pal Howard Hesseman.

On June 16, Bonner died in his California home, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 79.

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illusion4 26 months ago
RIP Frank (Herb) & Howard (Dr. Fever)🙏...Oh and put WKRP back on rotation! ✌
DIGGER1 26 months ago
I am "SO" sorry, everyone. While I was posting an "R.I.P." tribute to Howard Hessman("DR. JOHNNY FEVER"), it occurred to me to come check out this story article to see whether or not I had originally posted one for Frank Bonner when it was announced several months ago that he had died.

And wouldn't you know it? I didn't find a "SINGLE" post with "MY" name on it, and I just felt that I should kick myself for not saying anything in memory of Mr. Bonner, who IMHO, really did the role of "Herb" justice on the show just as well as Howard did for the role of "Johnny".

Oh, well, as some "WISE" person always said, "it never too late" to do something now what you put off later, right? LOL! And so, without further ado:

Olivia_Reed 32 months ago
Frank Bonner was brilliant. He took a one-dimensional, initially annoying character and made him hilarious, vulnerable, and lovable. By the end of the series I loved him. I hope he and Gordon Jump are laughing together.
Zip 33 months ago
Aside from WKRP, he was on an episode of Newhart, in a subplot playing a guy who had a phobia to just about everything.

Incidentally, Richard Sanders(Les Nessman) also was on Newhart as a guy with an invisible wife.

Both were very funny subplots. Although I would have to give a slight edge to the episode that Richard Sanders was in.
Cecil Breech(Sanders): "Excuse me, have either of you seen my wife?"
CurleyGirl1018 34 months ago
He was a great re-creation of Ted Baxter just as MTM show ended. Lots of fun to watch him!!! RIP Frank!
Moverfan 34 months ago
We cannot forget the New WKRP, specifically the episode where Les got a tip that Elvis was alive and planned to be in a contest for Elvis impersonator (a nasty attempt at free publicity by the sponsor, WPIG, the swine). Herb ended up on stage dressed as Elvis and not wanting to be there, but when some off-camera twit said "Sing, dummy", he did...and taught everybody how Heartbreak Hotel should be done.
mcdmikeylikesit 34 months ago
I watched WKRP back in the day, RIP Mr Bonner, he was the ultimate salesman, right down to the tacky suit
FLETCH 34 months ago

He was fantastic as Herb and I really enjoyed WKRP as a kid.
JMartin 34 months ago
:-( 🙁 RIP: Frank Bonner (AKA: Herb Tarlek) from the TV show WKRP In Cincinnati . It was a great show .. super funny. Excellent cast that had a catchy TV tune song.. it always made me laugh
FLETCH JMartin 34 months ago
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Peter_Falk_Fan 34 months ago
I just stumbled upon this on YouTube: Rheostatics - The Tarleks
Frank Bonner is in it. It's about alien Herb Tarleks invading earth.
Wiseguy 34 months ago
Decades showed a Love Boat episode with Frank Bonner on Friday June 18. Just a coincidence, it just happened to be the next episode to show.
TeresaDraper 34 months ago
Loved WKRP and Herb hey MeTV how about airing a few of the classic Herb episodes as a tribute😎
jacko3 34 months ago
May the Good LORD be with Frank Bonner forever....
Marcia 34 months ago
It would be great if MeTv did a block of WKRP in tribute, picking episodes which highlighted "Herb" in all his glory!
Wiseguy Marcia 34 months ago
Assuming they still have the rights to show it.
abuadamin 34 months ago
RIP Herb, and thanks for the wonderful memories!!!
Tampammm 34 months ago
Great show ,,great character!
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