'Ajax man' actor dead at 75

posted 2004-08-02 11:50:01 by stevemay

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Eugene Roche, a paunchy character actor who played the kitchen-cleaning "Ajax man" in commercials and had memorable roles in such television shows as "All in the Family" and "Magnum P.I" has died at age 75.

Roche died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack in an Encino hospital, family friend Timothy Wayne said Friday. He had been hospitalized Monday for tests after suffering a mild heart attack at his home in Sherman Oaks, Wayne said.

Roche's name may not be familiar to most audiences, but his face surely was.

Plump and jovial with glinting eyes, Roche costarred on TV's "Webster" as a lovable landlord, and was Archie Bunker's neighborhood nemesis Pinky Peterson on "All in the Family."

Roche, born in Boston, also played the curmudgeonly "old school" private investigator Luther Gillis on "Magnum P.I.," the sly attorney E. Ronald Mallu on the sitcom "Soap" and the newspaper editor Harry Burns on "Perfect Strangers."

One of his most memorable movie roles was in 1971's "Slaughterhouse-Five," based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Roche played a likable POW named Edgar Derby, who amid the scorched remains of a firebombed Dresden picks up an intact porcelain figurine as a souvenir -- and is promptly executed for looting by his German captors.

Survivors include his wife, Anntoni, and their nine children.