By Andrew Blumetti
Anyone who knows relatively anything about anything knows that teen s-kicker sitcom, Hey Dude, is the best television show to ever grace the boob tube.
Well, maybe not exactly the best show ever, but if you grew up a healthy diet of late 80’s/early 90’s Nickelodeon fare, you’re no doubt as big of a fan of the western cowboy-comedy as I was.
The plot was your classic fish-out-of-water: A nerdy New York City accountant purchases the “Bar None Ranch”, an Arizona dude ranch smack dab in the barren desert, and brings his Hypercolor shirt-wearing son with him. Throw in a teenage staff of cowboys, Indians, and textbook white-boy slackers, and you’ve got yourself a Nick home run, and I don’t mean Swisher.
“Who you calling a fish out of water?!?”
There was goofball troublemaker Ted, and his on-again, off-again love interest, Brad, a rich girl with a boys’ name who was nowhere near as attractive as she was made out to be. Rounding out the bunch was goody two-shoes lifeguard Melody, Brendan Frasier-wannabe drummer Jake, pretty-boy cowboy Kyle, Lucy- the one actual adult who worked there, and last, but not least, Danny Lightfoot, a Hopi Indian who had a larger denim vests collection than Ernest P. Worrell. Lightfoot also was graced with a deep, spiritual kinship with the anhydrous desert land, the way Hollywood assumes all Native Americans do.
Danny (fourth from left) was peeved in this episode, as everyone put their money on him to go first in the “Hey Dude death pool”.
After the show’s cancellation in 1991, the teen cast mostly fell into adult obscurity. A few cast members kept their inconsequential relevance– protagonist Mr. Ernst (David Brisbin) did some minor acting on episodes of shows such as Seinfeld and ER, Ted (David Lascher) went on to co-star in Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, and Melody (Christine Taylor) most prominently became known as Mrs. Ben Stiller.
The parched tumbleweeds blew across the Duders world for years until an ordinary 2004 afternoon, when it was reported (albeit unconfirmed) that Joe Torres, the actor who played Danny, had passed away from liver failure.
This story could’ve been an immature internet hoax, or it could’ve been true, and that’s the sheer bloody genius of it.
Report that Brad Pitt jumped off a bridge or Kim Kardashian fell into a shark tank, and skeptical people will call shenanigans from the get-go. Report the quiet demise of an obscure actor from a nearly 20-year old kid’s cable show, and it becomes a lot harder to disprove.
Also, the longer the rumors went invalidated, the more believable the actor’s doom-and-gloom fate became. Was he still vertical? Or did the man-eating jack rabbits and killer cacti finally take Torres down?
(Yes, apparently Danny was a big Guns ‘N Roses fan. …but did he ever get to experience the forgettable phenomenon that was Chinese Democracy?)
Finding information on Torres is about as difficult as you’d imagine. Over the years, on his IMDB page, help was sparse at best. Mostly a bunch of occasional message board nerds doing message-boardy things, such as disputing his fate, discussing his mullet, and who saw him doing what, and where (not necessarily in that order).
Internet hearsay is absolutely worthless though. For all we really know, he was out playing darts with Elvis, country line-dancing with Tupac or maybe he was abducted by martians who were mistaken Clarissa Explains It All fans instead.
There were also stories that Torres packed his dusty bags and ended up on the East Coast. Some speculation pointed to him living in Tarheel country in North Carolina. Or maybe it was more plausible he simply dropped the “s” at the end of his last name, blew all of his Hey Dude savings at the plastic surgeon, then managed the Yankees to four World Series titles.
One man, four rings? Perhaps all those years of dealing with hothead Ted on the show prepared him to deal with Roger Clemens on the field?
Another possible theory was that Torres was still alive and working at a Toyota dealership in Runnemede, NJ. Any links on the website to his existence are gone, and this was the supposed picture of him from his shirt-and-tie job:
“He was known as ‘Sells’em Camry’ in used-car circles.”
Another theory that seemed to have legs was that Torres was still alive and kickin’… at a bar nonetheless. Some had claimed to see him frequent the World Famous Golden Nugget Tavern in Tuscon, Arizona.
Word on the sand has it that Torres is not someone you want to meet up with on the felt, as he’s quite the pool shark (just without his own week on cable every summer). This seemed to be more likely than the other scenarios, seeing as the Southwest was Torres’ old stomping grounds when Hey Dude filmed out there during its run.
After many failed attempts to find any contact source to help with Torres’ mysterious story, the simplest solution was get in touch with the Golden Nugget to see if they could shed any light on this Dude-er dilemma.
Following an inquiry to the establishment, I received a very helpful email from Tim Donaldson from the Golden Nugget. Donaldson kindly told me that Jose (Joe) “is alive and well”, thanked me for my message, and said he would pass it along to him.
Hey Danny, you’re alive! Don’t look so shocked.
So my fellow Nick fans, may this news make your late-summer week a little sweeter. We can all breathe a “yippe ki yi ya!” in relief that the rumors of the demise of Danny from Hey Dude, were just that- rumors. A bunch of speculative hogwash– no liver failure and no job selling Snooki a souped-up Corolla at a Jersey car dealership. Turns out our very favorite Hey Dude-er is just a former actor looking to kick back, sink the 8-ball in the corner pocket of his past, and enjoy his billard-loving privacy.
…unlike Sponge from Salute Your Shorts. We all know he’s really dead.