Eugene 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.