August 2, 2004 by

Eugene Roche


Categories: Actors, Hollywood

eroche.jpgEugene Harrison Roche, a character actor who was best known for playing the “Ajax man” in TV commercials, died on July 28 of a heart attack. He was 75.

The Boston native was only 15 years old when he began his show business career, providing character voices on WERS Radio for $2 a show. After graduating from high school, Roche served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War. He attended Emerson College on the GI Bill, and appeared in summer stock shows with Bob Fosse and Henry Fonda.

In the 1950s, Roche moved to California and acted in numerous plays with the Actor’s Workshop of San Francisco. He then headed to New York and hit the theatre circuit, making his Broadway debut in the play, “Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole.”

Roche spent the next four decades working steadily on both coasts. Although he appeared in several movies, including a memorable turn as a POW in the 1971 film, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Roche’s talents shined on the small screen. As a series regular on “Soap,” “Hart to Hart,” “Airwolf,” “Webster” and “Perfect Strangers,” Roche proved he was equally adept at comedy and drama. He also played recurring roles on “All in the Family,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Night Court,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Dave’s World,” and made notable guest appearances on “Maude,” “Kojak,” “Lou Grant,” “Taxi,” “Highway to Heaven” and “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Roche penned a book of short stories about the people and events that touched his life, and fathered nine children, including three sons who became entertainers. Eamonn and Brogan Roche are actors, and Sean Roche is a writer and producer.

9 Responses to Eugene Roche

  1. Dave Riley

    As an extra, I was in a scene with him in the episode of “The Guardian” when Dabney Coleman (the dad) and Simon Baker (the son) get into a heated argument at a law seminar. Mr. Roche played the judge at the seminar’s mock court. (For some reason, IMDB does list this among his credits, but he did it in the spring of 2003.)
    In a shot that ended up on the cutting room floor, he and I enter the seminar room. On the second take I ran smack into him, and I think, “Oh, crap, now I’ve done it. Thrown the guest star off his stride.” I apologized, but he said, “Don’t worry. You’re doing just fine.”

  2. Jewel Howard

    I worked with Gene Roche in the Summer of 1953 at a stock company in Massachusetts. He was the Leading Man and I was the Ingenue. One of my most vivid memories is Gene arriving at the theater with his beautiful bride and a very large dog jammed into a very tiny car. In the course of the summer, we had a wonderful time, (and many, many laughs) working together. But bad things happened as well, turning my first professional job into a nightmare. The only ray of light was Gene, always compassionate and always kind and totally non-judgmental, rare in life and even rarer in the theater. At the age of twenty, you appreciate ambition, toughness and smarts more than kindness, so this was a great lesson for me. I never forgot him and always hoped I’d have the opportunity to thank him. This will have to do.

  3. Robert Spediacci

    I worked with Gene on a advertizing film for Ortho garden products in 1959 in San Francisco. He was a fun person to work with.After that I followed his career the best I could.

  4. Tom Finnegan

    Gene is my 1st cousin, and the whole Finnegan Clan has always been proud of him. I took a different road, enlisting in the Army in Boston, and then making a career of it. Retiring at age 39, I went to college under the GI Bill,(as Gene did) got involved in theatre, and fell in love with acting. Bitten badly by the bug, I decided to move to L.A. to give it a try. My phone calls to Gene encouraged me to do so, and when I arrived, he was instrumental in finding an agency to take me on. Within six months, I had snagged my first commercial, and that, of course, got me into SAG, which began a 25 year career as a film, Television and Stage character actor. I am retired from SAG now, and only work occasionally, but I shall never forget his generosity, encouragement, and especially his humor. I have dearly missed him since his death.

  5. Megan Roche

    I am one of Eugene Roche’s daughters and I wanted to express to all what a wonderful father he was to me. I miss him so deeply. He loved life and people. Such a generous man he was. I was so proud to be his daughter. Daddy I miss you so much and feel you with me everyday. Thank you for all you gave me . I love you. Love in my heart forever, your daughter, Megan

  6. Suzanne Foxton

    Megan, I’d love to get ahold of a copy of your Dad’s book, having trouble finding it. Could you tell me the title and publisher? Big fan of your Dad’s, just saw him have the last word in an episode of Quincy (Guilty Until Procen Innocent). Thanks!

  7. Martin Heras

    I knew Eugene Roche very briefly and learned a few things he shared about a career in acting. I was interested in theater at one time in my life so Eugene shared his experiences. He was such a wonderful man who gave the world his all. He also had a wonderful daughter- Megan.
    Rest in peace sir.

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