Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize (April 23, 1943 – September 4, 1993) was a French actor of English and Filipino descent who achieved worldwide recognition for various roles including that of the evil henchman Nick Nack in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), as well as Mr. Roarke's assistant, Tattoo, in the television series Fantasy Island (1978–1984). On Fantasy Island, he was well known for delivering the line "Ze plane! Ze plane!"
Villechaize suffered from proportionate (as opposed to disproportionate) dwarfism, likely due to an endocrine disorder, 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 a "little person."
Villechaize was born in Nazi-occupied Paris to English-born Evelyn (Recchionni) and raised there by her and his father André Villechaize. Villechaize was bullied at school for his condition and found solace in painting. He also had a brief modeling career. A gifted artist, in 1959, at the age of 16, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study art. In 1961, he became the youngest artist to ever have his work displayed in the Museum of Paris. In 1964 he left France for the USA. He settled in a Bohemian section in New York, taught himself English by watching television and continued his career as an artist, painter 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. The second film was Edward Summer's Item 72-D: The Adventures of Spa and Fon filmed in 1969. This was followed by several films including Christopher Speeth's and Werner Liepolt's Malatesta's Carnival of Blood; Crazy Joe; Oliver Stone's first film, Seizure; The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight; and 1980's Forbidden Zone. He was asked to play a part in the film Dune, which had originally begun pre-production in 1971; however, the project was cancelled.
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. 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 and 1980s 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. In the 1970s, on Sesame Street, Villechaize performed Oscar the Grouch as a pair of legs peeping out from a trash can, for scenes which required the Grouch to be mobile. These appearances began in the second season and included the 1978 Hawaii episodes.
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 cancelled.
He starred in the 1980 movie Forbidden Zone, and appeared in Airplane II: The Sequel, and episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and Taxi.
In the eighties, he became popular in Spain due to his impersonations of Prime Minister Felipe González in the TV show Viaje con nosotros ("Travel with us"), with showman Javier Gurruchaga.
He made his final appearance in a cameo as himself in an episode of The Ben Stiller Show.
Personal life and death
In the early morning hours of September 4, 1993, Villechaize is believed to have first fired a shot through the sliding glass patio door in order to awaken his longtime girlfriend, Kathy Self, before shooting himself at his North Hollywood home. Self found Villechaize in his backyard, and he was pronounced dead at a North Hollywood facility. Villechaize left a suicide note saying he was despondent over longtime health problems. Villechaize was suffering from chronic pain due to having normal sized internal organs putting increasing pressure on his small body. According to Self, Villechaize often slept in a kneeling position so he could breathe more easily.
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.
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 voiced Space Ghost's sidekick on the show.
In a March 2012 New York Times interview, Peter Dinklage revealed that he and Sacha Gervasi had spent several years writing a script about Villechaize. Gervasi, a director and journalist, conducted a lengthy interview with Villechaize just prior to the latter's suicide; according to Dinklage, "after he killed himself, Sacha realized Hervé's interview was a suicide note." The film, entitled My Dinner with Hervé, is based on the last few days of Villechaize's life, and will star Dinklage in the title role.
1. "News From Me: "Victorand Billy : ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 1/19/01 Comics Buyer's Guide"". Mark Evanier. 2001-01-19.
2. Adelson, Betty (2005). The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. Rutgers University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780813535487.
3. IMDB (n.d.). "Item 72-D: The Adventures of Spa and Fon". USA: IMDB.
4. Wilkins, Frank. "The Suicide of Herve Villechaize - Tattoo". Reel Reviews.
5. "Herve Villechaize; Actor, 50, Commits Suicide at His Home". The New York Times. September 5, 1993
6. "Documondo Film at 5mtl.com". 5mtl.com.
7. "Space Ghost Coast to Coast: The Second Pilot". C4vct.com.
8. Dan Kois (2012-03-29). "Peter Dinklage Was Smart to Say No". The New York Times.
9. "James McAvoy Reading Sacha Gervasi's 'My Dinner With Hervé'". The Playlist. 2011-04-19.
10. "Sacha Gervasi — Peter Dinklage: 'Herve Villechaize Biopic Is Based On Director's Final Interview'". Contact Music. 2013-04-19.