Navy Vet Frank Bonner Gave Polyester a Good Name on 'WKRP'

Frank Bonner WKRP
Frank Bonner starred as plaid-loving salesman Herb Tarlek in "WKRP in Cincinnati." (CBS)

Frank Bonner, the actor who gained his greatest fame as the hustling ad salesman Herb Tarlek on "WKRP in Cincinnati," has died at age 79.

The CBS series ran from 1978-1982 and featured a scheming crew of disc jockeys, sales reps and newsroom staff at a mid-market rock radio station. The show featured a lot of contemporary music from big acts like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley and The Doors. Because no one foresaw a day when old shows would be released on home video, it took years for the series to be released on DVD.

Bonner, born in Little Rock and raised in Malvern, Arkansas, joined the Navy out of high school and spent six years in the service, spending some of his time stationed in San Diego. After he got out, Bonner moved to Los Angeles where he spent several years making guest appearances on television before his big break on "WKRP."

Salesman Herb Tarlek, known for his flashy double-knit suits, had a particularly rough relationship with news director Les Nessman (played by Richard Sanders). Les thought Herb didn't respect his craft and Herb thought Les was just a stick in the mud. This scene from the show captures their chemistry.

Bonner returned for "The New WKRP in Cincinnati," a revival that ran from 1991-1993 and had recurring roles on "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" and the sitcom "Just the Ten of Us." He also became a successful television director and directed all 105 episodes of the NBC Saturday morning show "City Guys."

Other military veterans who have enjoyed success as actors played more roles than Frank Bonner did, but few have made such an impact with a single character. Herb Tarlek is one of the funniest television characters of all time, so here's to the memory of Herb and Frank. Rest easy, sailor.

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