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Jack Horkheimer

AKA Foley Arthur Horkheimer

Born: 11-Jun-1938
Birthplace: Randolph, WI
Died: 20-Aug-2010
Location of death: Miami, FL
Cause of death: Respiratory failure [1]
Remains: Buried, Randolph, WI

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Astronomer, TV Personality

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Naked-eye astronomer

Jack Horkheimer was an entirely self-taught astronomer who became director of the Space Transit Planetarium at the Miami Science Museum, but he was far better known as the host of PBS's Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer. The program, syndicated in both one-minute and five-minute weekly episodes, featured Horkheimer strolling among the planets and sometimes sitting on Saturn's rings while offering explanatory tidbits of astronomy, presented over an appropriately spacey all-electronic rendition of Claude Debussy's Arabesque #1. His walks and talks through the skies centered on heavenly objects and phenomena that could be observed even without a telescope, with advice on what to look for in the night sky. Each episode ended with Horkheimer encouraging the audience to "Keep looking up!"

His father owned a printing shop and served more than two decades as the mayor of Horkheimer's home town, Randolph, Wisconsin. The young Horkheimer was afflicted with bronchiectasis, a chronic and progressive disease of dilated, enlarged bronchi that results from lower respiratory tract infection, which made his childhood miserable. Raised devoutly Catholic, he felt that the illness was a curse from God, and attempted suicide when he was barely twelve years of age. After graduating from high school in 1956, he was briefly hospitalized with a nervous breakdown.

He worked as a piano player in a hotel bar, and toured with some success as a jazz pianist and organist under the stage name 'Horky' and, later, as Jack Foley. He studied drama at Purdue, hoping to become a playwright, and when his disease grew worse he settled in Miami, where the climate was easier on his lungs. He found a job to pay the bills, but loved volunteering at the planetarium in his spare time.

Calling on his theater training, he researched, wrote and performed popular explanations to accompany the astronomy projections, and his presentations, including "Child of the Universe" and "Mother Wont Let Me Ride in a Flying Saucer", became very popular. After three years of volunteer work he was hired at the planetarium, and in 1974 he was promoted to Executive Director. He soon became a local celebrity and TV-friendly science spokesman, and in 1976 he began appearing as the Star Hustler (later re-named Star Gazer) for his local PBS affiliate, WPBT. The program was syndicated after 1985, and continued until his death in 2010. On many stations the program aired late in the evening, or as the last broadcast before signing off.

In 1982 he was the driving force behind an event billed as "The End of the World Party" in Miami. It was intended as a low-key open-air stargazing party loosely inspired by a schlock science book that predicted the end of the universe, and Horkheimer had organized numerous similar events without any problems. But this party was promoted by an area rock station as sort of an astronomical Woodstock, described as a "Doomsday" festival. Perhaps predictably in hindsight, a full-scale riot ensued when no musical bands took the stage. Arrests and injuries numbered in the hundreds, stabbings and beatings were reported, and though no-one was killed, Horkheimer said he was unable to sleep through the night for a week.

His health was always precarious, and as his disease continued to worsen Horkheimer had his own tombstone prepared, engraved, "Keep looking up" was my lifes admonition. I can do little else in my present position. The program has continued after his death, retitled Star Gazers and featuring new hosts. Horkheimer never married, and suffered from severe acrophobia fear of heights.

[1] Bronchiectasis, a chronic disease of dilated, enlarged bronchi that results from lower respiratory tract infection.

Father: Arthur Philip Horkheimer (owned print shop, b. 22-Mar-1904, d. 23-Aug-1974)
Mother: Mary Horkheimer (b. 6-Aug-1903, d. 1-Jul-1979)
Brother: Edmund Philip Horkheimer (b. 1933, d. infancy)

    High School: Campion Jesuit High School, Prairie du Chien, WI (1956)
    University: Honolulu Academy of Fine Arts (attended, 1956-57)
BA Theater, Purdue University (1963)

    Miami Science Museum Executive Director, Planetarium (1974-2010)
    Miami Science Museum Staff, Planetarium (1967-74)
    Miami Science Museum Volunteer, Planetarium (1964-67)
    PBS Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer (1976-2010)
    Suicide Attempt 1950
    Nervous Breakdown 1956
    Southern Cross Astronomical Society
    International Planetarium Society Founding Member
    Klumpke-Roberts Award 2000
    Asteroid Namesake 11409 Horkheimer
    Risk Factors: Acrophobia, Depression, Colon Cancer

Official Website:

Author of books:
Stargazing with Jack Horkheimer (2006, comics; illustrated by Rich Harrington)

Wrote plays:
If the Shoe Fits, Eat It (1964)

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