Villechaize as Tattoo
|Born||April 23, 1943
|Died||September 4, 1993 (aged 50)
North Hollywood, California, USA
Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize (April 23, 1943 – September 4, 1993) was a French actor who achieved worldwide recognition for his role as Mr. Roarke's assistant, Tattoo, in the television series Fantasy Island (1978–1984). He was also well known for playing the evil henchman Nick Nack in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, and was an acclaimed painter.
Villechaize suffered from proportionate (as opposed to achondroplastic) dwarfism due to a thyroid dysfunction, despite his surgeon father's attempts to cure the disease in several institutions. In later years, he insisted on being called a midget, rather than "little person", irritating activists like Billy Barty.
Villechaize was born and raised in Paris, France to English-born Evelyn (Recchionni) and stepfather André Villechaize, a French surgeon. He also had Filipino ancestry. Villechaize was bullied at school for his condition and found solace in painting. After studying art at Beaux-Arts college, he left for the USA in 1964. He settled in a Bohemian section in New York, taught himself English by watching television, and continued his career as an artist and photographer. He began acting in Off Broadway productions, including The Young Master Dante by Werner Liepolt and a play by Sam Shepard, and also did some photo shoot modeling for National Lampoon, before moving on to film.
His first movie appearance was in Chappaqua in 1966, which was followed by several films including Christopher Speeth's and Werner Liepolt's Malatesta's Carnival of Blood, Crazy Joe, Seizure directed by Oliver Stone, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, and The Forbidden Zone. He was then asked to play a part in the film Dune, which had originally begun pre-production in 1971; however, the project was canceled.
His big break was getting cast in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, by which time he had become so poor he was living out of his car in Los Angeles. Prior to being signed up by Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, he made ends meet by working as a rat catcher's assistant near his South Central home. But from what his co-actor Christopher Lee saw, The Man with the Golden Gun filming was possibly the happiest time of Hervé's life; Lee likened it to honey in the sandwich between an insecure past and an uncertain future. In addition to being an actor, Villechaize became an active member of a movement in 1970s–80s California to deal with child abuse and neglect, often going to crime scenes himself to help comfort abuse victims. Villechaize's former co-workers recalled that despite his stature, he would often confront and chastise spousal and child abusers when he arrived at crime scenes.
Though popular with the public, Villechaize proved a difficult actor on Fantasy Island, where he continually propositioned women and quarreled with the producers. He was eventually fired after demanding a salary on par with that of co-star Ricardo Montalbán. The show's popularity waned after this move, and it was soon canceled. According to his former butler in an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, Villechaize never got over losing his job, and for the remainder of his life practiced an often nightly ritual of drinking in a darkened room while screaming obscenities at an episode of Fantasy Island playing on his television.
He made his final appearance in a cameo as himself in an episode of The Ben Stiller Show.
As a consequence of his health problems and troubles in his professional career, Villechaize became alcoholic and depressive in the last few years of his life, which led to erratic and sometimes violent behavior, including an incident in which he allegedly held his agent at gunpoint in a booth at a restaurant in Los Angeles.
In the early morning hours of September 4, 1993, Hervé shot himself at his home. He was found by his longtime girlfriend, Kathy Self, and rushed to the Medical Center at North Hollywood, California. He died later that day as a result of his injuries . He left a suicide note saying he was despondent over longtime health problems. Ten years earlier, Haywood Nelson, star of What's Happening!! had interviewed him about his many suicide attempts for a program entitled That Teen Show which included messages directed at depressed and suicide-prone teenagers. Villechaize said then that he had learned to love life. Kathy Self stated to the media that Hervé Villechaize did not know who his biological father was since he was adopted at the age of two by André Villechaize.
At the time of his suicide, Cartoon Network was in negotiations for him to co-star in Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which was in pre-production at the time. Villechaize would have been Space Ghost's sidekick on the show.