Jack Horkheimer Passes Away at 72

Amateur astronomy lost one its most iconic figures today. Jack Horkheimer, known to millions as public television's ebullient "Star Gazer," died this afternoon at age 72. The exact cause of death was not disclosed, though he had battled chronic respiratory problems for decades.

Always enthusiastic about viewing the heavens, Jack Horkheimer is seen here in a frame from one of the final episodes of his long-running "Star Gazer" television series.
Miami Science Museum
Horkheimer had been a fixture at the Miami Planetarium for more than 45 years, where he began as a volunteer and served as its executive director since 1973. But he'll be remembered most for his exuberant and often zany television persona, who helped us all appreciate the breadth and depth of eyeball-only astronomy.

The show started airing locally on WPBT in Miami, then went national in 1985. Along the way his nom de television morphed from "Star Hustler" to "Star Gazer," to sidestep aggressive web-browsing filters.

The shows are distributed free, via satellite to more than 200 stations across the U.S. and to other outlets like the Armed Forces Network. You can download any of the past year's episodes as well. Since Horkheimer and longtime planetarium colleague Bill Dishong produced several episodes in advance, the last one to feature Horkheimer — his 1,708th — will air the first week of September and feature the Summer Triangle. As always, he begins with a chortling "Greetings, greetings, fellow stargazers and ends with his signature phrase "Keep looking up!"

Beyond the enthusiasm he projected over the air waves, Horkheimer had encouraged kids to get involved in astronomy, most notably through annual $1,000 awards given to aspiring young amateur astronomers through the Astronomical League.

It's not yet clear how or if his show will continue. Tony Lima of the Miami Science Museum, home to the planetarium, says the staff is still trying to make sense of Horkheimer's passing, adding, "We at the Museum all feel this loss quite a bit." At least one month of shows will be hosted by Chris Trigg, another staffer at the Miami facility.

Horkheimer's inspiration will live on. In 2007 Cricket Books published a collection of comic strips (first seen in Odyssey magazine) featuring his madcap take on viewing the sky. Colorful to the end, "Horky" offers this amusing, self-penned epitaph in his online bio:

"Keep Looking Up was my life's admonition,
I can do little else in my present position."

27 thoughts on “Jack Horkheimer Passes Away at 72

  1. Pete L.

    I grew up in the Miami area in the 60s and 70s. Mr. Horkheimer was my early inspiration to pursue the Astronomy hobby. I share the skies with family and friends due in part to the work and enthusiam of Jack Horkheimer. I have many times caught myself telling others “Keep Looking Up!”

  2. John F. Tashjian

    I am deeply saddened to learn of Jack Horkheimer’s death. I first watched his five-minute programs on the PBS station in Fresno, CA when I was attending the California State University there. He made sky watching fun. I will miss him quite a bit. Rest in peace, my firend; rest in peace.

  3. Alvaro, Chìa Colombia. Sur Amèrica

    En español:
    Cada semana veìa su programa en internet.Espero que sus cenizas vuelen muy alto hasta la estrella mas brillante.
    Que de allì observe a “sus StarGazer”a quienes su inspirar.

  4. Shiloh

    My husband and I would always watch Star Hustler after the late news. It was the perfect way to end the day. He made it so easy for me to understand what he was talking about. I’m not surprised at his epitath. Very appropriate. Yes he will be missed, but I am so thankful to have learned from him.

  5. rfefferman

    I got to meet Jack once, and he really was a little bit like his larger-than-life TV persona. Few have done more than he to promote awareness of stars. He will be missed. If his heirs would see fit to put the “Keep on looking up” it would be appropriate.

  6. ToSeek

    There’s a whole generation of us “Doctor Who” fans who think of “Star Huster” as an integral coda to each week’s “Doctor Who” episode because so many PBS stations showed the programs together.

  7. William Tatum

    When I first discovered “Star Hustler” in 1988 while visiting Miami, I was instantly hooked! From that time
    on, I would search for his show wherever I traveled just to
    catch that five minutes of “galactic entertainment”. They should name a constellation after him! Farewell, Jack!

  8. David Oesper

    Jack Horkheimer has done more to kindle an interest in the simple pleasures of observational astronomy than probably anyone else in recent decades, at least in the U.S. We’re going to miss his enthusiastic delivery of high quality astronomical information greatly. One of a kind, he was, a treasure. I certainly hope a well-indexed collection of his 5-minute programs (at least many of them) is released on DVD and/or the Internet.

    Keep looking up!

  9. Fred from Laurel, Md

    That same combination of shock and pit-of-the-stomach that I felt when I heard of Richard Feynman’s passing, is back. I have to wonder, has anyone in all of history had so much positive impact on young astronomers (or those of any age!) with so little exposure time (5 minutes per night? per week?)? Astronomy is a little poorer and less fun without him. No wait, I take that back — it’s a whole lot MORE fun because he was here for all those years!

  10. Scott

    I lived in South Florida in the late 70s, and the only time Star Hustler was on was 2:00 in the morning on the weekends.
    I’d stay up through Big Wilson’s Nit Owl Theatre and Creature Feature, just to watch this 5-minute program. I’ve watched ever since. We’ll miss you, Jack. Keep Looking Down on the rest of us.

  11. Ed Case

    All the astronomical community will miss him. Before I retired here in Panama, I live in Florida for 34 yeas and watched him every night. God bless him and his family and thank him for the times we had. Ed Case. Dolega, Chiriqui, Panama

  12. Ed Case

    All the astronomical community will miss him. Before I retired here in Panama, I live in Florida for 34 yeas and watched him every night. God bless him and his family and thank him for the times we had. Ed Case. Dolega, Chiriqui, Panama

  13. Karen

    I started watching Star Gazer when it was still called Star Hustler back in the mid 80′s when I first became an amateur astronomer. Jack Horkheimer, with his infectious enthusiasm and unfailingly interesting presentations helped me discover quite a few stars and constellations, as well as keeping me informed of all the extra events that happened in the night sky. Unfortunately, our PBS station dropped his show several years ago, and although I watched some episodes on the Internet, it wasn’t the same as seeing them on TV and watching them with my children. I’m very sad to hear of his untimely death. I still tell people to “Keep Looking Up”. His shows were wonderful, and I will miss him.

  14. Wally

    Another of the great astronomy communicators and popularizers has gone from our company.

    I spent the middle of my life parroting his “keep looking up” phraseology while teaching astronomy.

    Clear skies to you, Jack, forever!

  15. Wally

    Another of the great astronomy communicators and popularizers has gone from our company.

    I spent the middle of my life parroting his “keep looking up” phraseology while teaching astronomy.

    Clear skies to you, Jack, forever!

  16. Joe Sims

    In 1986 I began an Astronomy Club for elementary students at my school (CPE) after being so inspired by Jack Horkheimer. His enthusiasm and simple to understand weekly programs was something the kids and I enjoyed watching on the programs I taped and showed. Our club motto was “Keep Looking Up” and put on the back of our club shirts for the 24 years my club existed. He was always entertaining and informative to me and my young students. Jack will sadly be missed but never forgotten for all he’s done for the love of Astronomy. Keep Looking Up everyone. (‘)(‘)

  17. Ron Savage

    Late at night back when tv would go off the air Jack Horkheimer would celestrialy give his forcast for the week and his theme song put me in the mood of calm. I’m going to miss you buddy.

    Ron Savage

  18. Rusty Osborne

    Whenever I would hear Isao Tomita’s moog synthesizer version of Claude Debussy’s “Arabesque #1″, I would come running. There is no better piece of music to represent the beauty and mystery of the heavens, and no better ambassador to the stars than Jack Horkheimer. I hope the enchanting Mr. Horkheimer, who kindled the wonder of astronomy in me and so many others, is taking his place among the stars.

    “I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you”.

  19. Rusty Osborne

    Wherever I was in the house, I would come running when Isao Tomita’s moog synthesizer version of Claude Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1″ came on. It’s the perfect piece of music to reflect the wonder and mystery of the stars, and Jack Horkheimer was the perfect ambassador for amateur astronomy.

    I went out tonight to see the summer triangle at Jack’s suggestion. Thanks, Jack, for a sharing your contagious enthusiasm for a hobby that those of us in this forum will always get excited about. Zany? Madcap? Maybe, be we loved him all the more for it.

  20. Michael C.

    This news saddened me so very much. I had just as recently as early August 2010 found Jack online by accident and was thrilled with excitement that he was still doing his show. I remember him well from my childhood and he was without question an inspiration. My sons and I just last month watched dozens of the videos on his website and they absolutely loved his character and the presentation he put forth with each episode. It breaks my heart to know they that for a small glimpse of time I was able to see the amazement and wonder that Jack had given me in my childrens eyes and now to learn he was gone forever. I had just recently found a true childhood hero and suddenly he was gone. We will miss you my friend. God bless you. Me and mine will indeed keep looking up.

  21. james newton

    i have been fascinated by astronomy for many years still an amateur, and maybe i will always be one, but i have watch star hustler for many many years. I cannot believe Mr. Horkheimer will not be there. i watch him as late as aug of 2010 and thought how great it was to get his program on the web. I feel an era has past. I wish he would have got more recognition of how great and positive influence he was on me and others. When i look up at the stars at night i think of jack horkheimer star hustler. He was a great role model with a happy voice and positive wisdom. He definately will be missed.

  22. Kandy Crowe

    Just saw the tag on Dr. Horkheimer’s show. I hadn’t realized he had died. When I caught his show, I was always impressed with his enthusiasm and his ability to pass on his knowledge in a way everyone could understand. We’ll sure miss him.

  23. ProfPatrickMorton

    Since a kid I always loved to see Dr Horkheimers tv shows on astronomy, I live in Maracaibo,Venezuela,I work at Liceo Los Robles,elementary,middle / high school,for years I have taped / bought all his shows in order to translate for kids down here so they could learn from this great teacher of the stars and planets!all my classes started with his minivideo and I translated to spanish simultaneously,this is a very great loss for us, we will really miss him here.

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