Jim J. Bullock is an American actor best known for his starring role on the 1980's sitcom Too Close for Comfort. Raised in Texas by conservative Baptist parents, he attended Oklahoma Baptist University on a music scholarship, but soon abandoned college to move west to Los Angeles. He worked part time as a waiter while he struggled to land roles, but finally got his big break when he landed the role of goofy Monroe Ficus on Too Close for Comfort. In 1987, he was a regular celebrity on the popular show Hollywood Squares. The witty and charming actor was a favorite of viewers. For many years he struggled to come out as both gay and HIV positive.
Actor. Born James Jackson Bullock in 1955. Witty and charming, Jim J. Bullock started out as just another struggling actor-waiter in Los Angeles and became a television star in the 1980s. Raised in Texas, he was brought up Baptist by his deeply religious and conservative parents. Bullock even attended Oklahoma Baptist University where he studied music on a scholarship. But he abandoned college to go west to Los Angeles.
Initially, Bullock waited tables and auditioned for parts. He got his big break when he landed the role of goofy Monroe Ficus on the popular sitcom Too Close for Comfort in 1980. On the series, television veteran Ted Knight starred as Henry Rush, a cartoonist who lived with his wife Muriel (Nancy Dussault) in San Francisco. Their two college-aged daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and Sara (Lydia Cornell) lived in the apartment downstairs. Bullock’s character was a friend of Sara’s and was often hanging around the Rushes, much to Henry’s dismay.
While ABC canceled the show in 1983, it lived on in syndication for two more seasons. In its last season, the sitcom was called The Ted Knight Show. The show took a new direction at the same time, making Henry Rush the majority share owner of a weekly newspaper. While his two daughters were dropped from the cast, Bullock, a fan favorite, remained with the show and now worked for Henry. A second season of The Ted Knight Show was about to going to production when its star passed away in August 1986.
Sexuality and Hollywood Squares
During the run of the show, some questions about Bullock’s sexual orientation cropped up. While Monroe had been written as a straight character, many fans wrote in asking if he was gay. In real life, Bullock had been keeping his homosexuality a secret, believing that it was be detrimental to his acting career. He later told the Miami Herald that he even dated women to protect his public image. “My publicist would put me in The National Enquirer with different girls of the week,” Bullock explained. Also fearing the stigma associated with AIDS, Bullock also kept the fact that he was HIV positive status to himself after learning his status in 1985.
In 1987, Bullock wowed audiences with his humor and wit on The Hollywood Squares, a popular game show. Basically nine celebrities, each occupying one square of a giant tic-tac-toe board, answered questions for two contestants. This format left plenty of time for jokes and wisecracks. Sometimes Bullock even overshadowed the comedienne in the center square, Joan Rivers, with his comments. Some compared him to Paul Lynde who occupied the Rivers’ position in an earlier version of the show.
Returning to television series, Bullock appeared in a recurring role in the final season of ALF—the title stood for Alien Life Form. The show featured a fuzzy creature from outer space, ALF, who lands on Earth and joins the Tanner family. It was a horrible experience for Bullock as he later told the Boston Globe. “I’ve tried to forget that show altogether. . . . Just a miserable group of people doing a miserable show.”
After ALF, Bullock’s career took a nosedive. He could not find another acting gig and ended up losing his house and filing for bankruptcy. The one bright spot of this dark time was meeting and falling in love with John Casey in 1990. Also around this time, Bullock came out of the closet, publicly revealing his sexual orientation, which had a negative impact on his career.
In 1996, Bullock returned to television to co-host a talk show with former televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, most commonly known for her heavy use of make-up and the scandal surrounding her former husband’s ministry. They seemed an unlikely pair, but they actually were quite friendly. Nationally syndicated, The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show debuted in January, but six weeks later Tammy Faye left, complaining that the taping schedule was too overwhelming.
In an effort to keep the show alive, Tammy Faye was replaced, but it only lasted two more months on the air. Bullock, in addition to his work as a co-host, had been appearing in a LA stage production of End of the World Party. Created by Chuck Ranberg, a former writer on the popular sitcom Frasier, the drama looked a group of gay men sharing a house on Fire Island for the summer. Bullock received warm reviews for his work. But he was also struggling in his personal life, losing his partner to AIDS-related complications that same year.
Addiction and Acting Comeback
After Casey’s death, Bullock’s HIV status was leaked to the press and made tabloid headlines. This news damaged his career and fueled the depression he had already been experiencing. Partying frequently, Bullock developed a substance abuse problem. He went through rehabilitation for drugs in 1998, but he had a relapse in 1999. On a week-long crystal meth binge, Bullock was arrested by the police for drug possession. The arrest was a wake-up call for him and he stop using drugs after that.
In 2000, Bullock received some recognition for his stage work, winning a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for his performance in When Pigs Fly, a musical revue. He appeared in a number of regional theater productions, including Dear Sheldon with Jo Anne Worley in 2002, before making his way to Broadway. In 2004, Bullock joined the cast of the hit musical Hairspray, which was based on the film by John Waters. The musical follows Tracy Turnblad’s dream of performing on a Baltimore teen dance show. Bullock played several small roles in his first appearance and later returned to play Tracy’s dad in 2007.
On the small screen, Bullock lent his voice to a series of cartoon shorts called Queer Duck, playing the title character. These shorts were shown on Showtime in conjunction with the popular dramatic series, Queer as Folk. As the cartoon’s theme song goes, Queer Duck is “everyone’s favorite male nurse.” He lives with his partner, Openly Gator, and interacts with his two close friends Oscar Wildcat and Bi-Polar Bear. Queer Duck was released as a feature film in 2006, featuring several musical numbers.
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