Veteran actor Richard Erdman, who is known for his role on the NBC series Community as octogenarian student Leonard Rodriguez, has passed away at the age of 93. Over the years, Erdman has appeared in several films and TV series such as The Twilight Zone, Murder, She Wrote, and many others. While Erdman has several acting credits, his most recent work on Community is what he is most known for today, as he held a reoccurring role on the series from its inception in 2009 through its final air date in 2015.
Born in Oklahoma in 1925, Erdman grew up in Colorado Springs before he ventured off to Hollywood where he was soon discovered by Warner Bros. In the 1950s, Edman began appearing on TV in roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, and Where's Raymond?. Erdman would appear in a 1963 episode of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone - which is set to have its third revival this upcoming April from Academy Award-winning writer and director Jordan Peele - as an ill-mannered man who causes mischief when he comes across a stopwatch that can stop time. Over the weekend, film historian Alan K. Rode, who was a friend of Erdman's informed the public of the veteran actor's passing.
Rode sent out a tweet paying tribute to Erdman, who was 93 at the time of his death. Nothing further was given in regards to a cause of death, but Rode did state that Erdman passed a few hours prior to the tweet. Erdman was prominent during his early years of acting, but for modern audiences, he is recognized as the elderly student Leonard from Community. Series creator Dan Harmon took to Instagram to pay tribute to Erdman, whose on-screen character became associated with the phrase "Shut up, Leonard!" Check out Harmon's post below:
View this post on Instagram
Godspeed, Richard Erdman. TV sometimes orders actors like pizza (I need a person over 6 foot, no beard, etc.). Richard was on a list of men over 80 willing to swim, so he ended up in a Long Beach swimming pool doing ten takes of a line we used the first take of. To me, reprising “Leonard” was ample reward for almost drowning him. Which is why, when he responded to one of my directions with a fart sound, I thought, man, if this guy dislikes drowning, he’s going to hate unemployment. Then the first AD said “Have you seen his imdb entry?” I looked it up. I think from 1944 to that day, there were four or five skipped years. The man had lived a life on camera. Not as a legacy child star, nothing against them, but he’d moved from Oklahoma to California, started acting and simply. Never. Stopped. Fine, I thought, we’ll write fart noises for him. Creatives are leveraged with the currency of “future.” Do what I say and one day you’ll never have to do what anyone says. You only have to believe that lie while you’re sexy. After that, there’s a line of people behind you, you know the trope. But Richard had worked so long that the “line of people” was god damn short. Hence, there were no favors being done on either side. It was like we rented a cabin and gave an old mountain lion some bacon, so he brought us a fish and we just kept living together. That metaphor stops at the fans. Because of the stupid god damn internet that I invented and will now die hating, he spent his last years touched by an audience he’d only ever known as theoretical. I remember driving him in a golf cart across the Paramount lot, most likely to flaunt my empathy to Chevy, and we were talking about the fans. Richard said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this.” I had to laugh and said “Come on. You’ve experienced everything like this.” He said no. He had no reason to lie. He already knew he could make a fart sound to my face. He could get his bacon somewhere else. He was a pro. But I think he had always done it for those hugs he finally got right at the end. Thank you, Richard. Sorry I always put 60 pound weights in your backpack for realism. You’ll thank me at the Emmys.
Erdman's most recent appearance to date was on the short-lived ABC series Dr. Ken, but this was only for one episode. Erdman's character on Community was a veteran student who had been attending Greendale Community College since 1975. The character seemingly had no intention of graduating and was viewed as a nuisance by other students on campus. He wasn't alone on campus, as there was a group of elderly students known as "The Hipsters," and Leonard was the apparent leader of the faction. While the series concluded in 2015, there have been talks of a movie happening as well as a potential seventh season, but nothing has been made official.
Erdman's contributions over the years will never be forgotten, and his role on Community will always be remembered by viewers of the show. His appearances in several series and films during Hollywood's golden age will always be a highlighted portion of his resume. He is preceded by his daughter Erica, and his wife Sharon who passed in 2016.