PHILADELPHIA (CBSNewYork/AP) — David Langston Smyrl, the Emmy-winning actor best known for his role as Mr. Handford, the retired firefighter who ran Hooper’s Store on “Sesame Street,” has died.
He was 80 years old.
Smyrl’s wife, Cheryl, says he died Tuesday of lung cancer at Lankenau Medical Center outside Philadelphia.
Smyrl started his television career in New York in the 1970s on the show “Express Yourself.” His work on the sitcom “Benson” in the 1970s earned him a People’s Choice Award.
He also worked as a writer and actor on “The Cosby Show,” playing contractor Sam Lucas.
Smryl also appeared on “Law & Order” and in the feature film, The Preacher’s Wife, according to his “Sesame Street” biography.
From 1990 to 1998, Smyrl played the smiling, singing store owner on “Sesame Street.” He succeeded Leonard Jackson, who played a grumpier Handford.
Smyrl had won the job by acting out a script where he had returned from fighting a fire, worn out, and talked of retiring and buying a little store, according to a 1997 story in the Record-Journal, a Connecticut newspaper.
“You get to act stupid,” Smyrl told the newspaper. “It’s fun! I get to do fun things like dance with Gloria Estefan.”
He enjoyed the role, because he loved children, Cheryl Smyrl said.
The Mr. Handford character took over the Hooper’s Store from the “Sesame Street” character David, who was written out when actor Northern Calloway left the show in 1989. Calloway died the following year.
Calloway’s David character in turn had taken over the store in 1982 from his longtime employer, Mr. Hooper – portrayed by original “Sesame Street” cast member Will Lee. A year after Lee died, “Sesame Street” won accolades for a poignant episode where the other adult characters told a distraught Big Bird that Lee’s Mr. Hooper character had died and would not be coming back.
The “Sesame Street” character Alan, played by Alan Muraoka, has run Hooper’s Store since 1998.
A funeral for Smyrl is scheduled for Monday.
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