Say Goodnight, Jack

But Not Goodbye

Last week an old friend and colleague, Jack Horkheimer, passed away. To most of the world, Jack was known as the Star Gazer (formerly the Star Hustler), for his little five-minute astronomy video short shows that aired on PBS for years and years.  For many of us in the planetarium profession, Jack was a long-time colleague and director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium. I’d known Jack since the early 1980s, when we met at a planetarium conference in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember we sat at a coffee shop, a bunch of us, swapping tall tales and telling jokes, and Jack had some of the funniest stories to tell about giving shows at his planetarium. I didn’t see Jack again until 1986, when we were all at a Voyager 2 flyby press event at JPL. He’d been popular as the Star Hustler for some years by then and he was at JPL to gather fodder for his shows and talks. I remember going out to a bar with Jack and another couple of his friends during that busy week, and again, we swapped tall tales and jokes.

The Jack Horkheimer I knew as a planetarian was quite a guy — maybe not always as swaggering as his Star Hustler (later renamed “Star Gazer”) persona, but always personable and friendly.  He was a thoughtful guy, ready to help folks out when they needed it, and always up for sharing astronomy with anybody. His ideas about astronomy being for everybody inspired a number of us as we sought our own paths to sharing astronomy with the public.  He was a public fixture and a planetarian to the core.

It was with great sadness that I heard of Jack’s death.  He had moved to Miami many years ago, as he put it, to die from a respiratory ailment he’d had.  The climate must have agreed with him, because he not only didn’t die — he thrived. In the end, his ailment took him away, but not before he brought astronomy to a wide audience.  The world is poorer for his loss, but you know what? We’re all richer for having had him there all those years to point out the stars and bring the skies to everyone with his engaging Star Gazer series.  RIP, Jack — and we’re all looking up!


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