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Roy Christopher, the 10-time Emmy-winning production designer and art director known for his work on Academy Award telecasts and series including Welcome Back, Kotter, Murphy Brown, Wings and Frasier, has died. He was 85.
Christopher died Tuesday in his sleep at his home in West Hollywood, his wife of more than 50 years, Dorothy, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Christopher received Emmys for his design work for the Oscar shows in 1981, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1999, 2003, 2006 and 2008 — and was nominated 10 other times for the telecast — and also won trophies for NBC’s The Richard Pryor Show in 1978 and for NBC’s Frasier in 2004.
He received a lifetime achievement award from the Art Directors Guild in 2004 and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2017.
“Roy Christopher was a legendary designer and gentleman who consistently raised the bar for excellence in production design through his career and by mentoring the next generation of designers,” ADG president Nelson Coates said. “He was a major influencer on popular culture and the visual presentation of our industry to the world.”
Christopher worked on all four seasons (1975-79) of ABC’s Welcome Back, Kotter; all 11 seasons (1993-2004) of Frasier; all eight seasons (1990–97) of NBC’s Wings; all 10 seasons of the original Murphy Brown (1988-98) on CBS; all six seasons (1998-2004) of CBS’ Becker; and three seasons (1995-97) of NBC’s NewsRadio.
He preferred medium was television. “People said, ‘Why don’t you do feature films, why don’t you do Broadway musicals?’ I just didn’t want to,” he said in a 2006 interview for the TV Academy Foundation website The Interviews. “I love television, I love the speed, the people, I love the energy, I love the challenges. You have to pull a rabbit out of a hat on a daily basis. It gets the adrenaline going.”
The son of a farmer, Roy Christopher Hergenroeder was born on Dec. 27, 1935, in Fresno, California. He grew up on a vineyard and earned his bachelor’s degree from Fresno State in 1957.
After serving as a designer for a Woodland Hills theater, Christopher got his start in TV when he was hired as an assistant art director on NBC’s The Dean Martin Show in the mid-1960s. He then worked on Jack Benny specials, The Name of the Game and Lotsa Luck at NBC and, for producer James Komack, on NBC’s Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter.
His first awards show was the 1977 Grammys, and his first Oscar assignment came in 1979. He also designed sets for the Tony Awards and for Emmy telecasts spanning the years 1981-99.
Planning an Academy Awards set is “a long journey and a big challenge,” he said in a 2008 interview. “First you have to look at what you’ve done and what others have done.” Then comes the process of “sketching and resketching and abandoning and trying new ideas until something just says to you, ‘That’s it.’ “
Christopher’s credits also included The Carol Burnett Show, The Jonathan Winters Show, The Midnight Special, Growing Pains and My Sister Sam and specials featuring Barbra Streisand, Mary Tyler Moore and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
He also designed sets at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, which starred Frasier actor David Hyde Pierce, and Neil Simon’s Oscar and Felix. Both were produced by Gil Cates, his frequent Oscar collaborator.
He met his future wife at Fresno State. She was a set decorator who helped design the green room at the Oscars for many years.
Survivors also include his brother, Kenneth.
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