The ''Fantasy Island'' actor who played Tattoo shot himself in 1993

On ABC’s Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize played Tattoo, an angelic half-pint who listened intently as his enigmatic boss, Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), served up prime-time-friendly homilies. But off camera, the 3’11” actor seemingly had trouble applying those secrets of happiness to his own life. At 50, despondent over medical problems stemming from his size, Villechaize fatally shot himself at his North Hollywood, Calif., home on Sept. 4, 1993 — just one year after nearly dying from pneumonia. A 1983 autobiography proposal prefigured his tragic demise: ”I dread dying. But I will die. In not too many tomorrows.”

Indeed, Villechaize’s life was no tropical idyll. The Paris-born art student scraped by with minor stage and film roles for almost two decades before landing on Fantasy Island in 1977. The hit show turned Villechaize into a larger-than-life character thanks to his catchphrase, ”De plane! De plane!” But while he playfully embraced his sudden stardom, Villechaize also exhibited a melancholy side. ”He was so charming and funny on the set,” recalls Island exec producer Aaron Spelling, ”and then you’d find him down by the river, just staring at the water.” In 1982, he made tabloid headlines when his second wife accused him of firing a pistol at her.

After Villechaize left Island in 1983 over a salary dispute, his career fizzled out save for a 1992 Dunkin’ Donuts commercial (”De plain! De plain!”). Increasingly plagued by pain, he would end his sweet-and-sour life the following year. ”There was something inside Herve that none of us could pierce,” laments Spelling. ”I still haven’t figured it out. He was an even bigger mystery than Roarke.”

SEPT. 4, 1993

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