Jack Horkheimer dies at 72; amateur astronomer hosted ‘Star Gazer’

Jack Horkheimer, an amateur astronomer who created and hosted the long-running weekly public television segment “Star Gazer,” died Friday in Miami. He was 72.

Horkheimer had battled respiratory problems for many years, according to Tony Lima, a spokesman for the Miami Science Museum and Space Transit Planetarium. Horkheimer directed the planetarium for 35 years until his retirement three years ago.

A flamboyant showman, Horkheimer was not taken seriously by professional astronomers, but his exuberant promotion of naked-eye astronomy — stargazing without a telescope — made him a celebrity among amateurs and gave his five-minute weekly television segments a campy appeal. Sky & Telescope magazine called him one of amateur astronomy’s “most iconic” figures in an online tribute.

Foley Arthur Horkheimer was born into a wealthy publishing family in Randolph, Wis., on June 11, 1938. He adopted Jack as a stage name during a brief career as a jazz pianist and organist after high school in the mid-1950s. He studied drama at Purdue University, graduating in 1963. In 1964 he moved to Miami for health reasons and began volunteering at the planetarium.


In 1973 he became its executive director and began developing a reputation nationally for creative programming. One of his first successes was an award-winning multimedia show called “Child of the Universe” that expressed the wonder he experienced when he gazed at the stars.

In 1976, Horkheimer talked Miami’s public television station, WPBT Channel 2, into helping him produce a weekly show that would promote naked-eye stargazing. Originally called “Star Hustler,” it went national in 1985 and changed its name to “Star Gazer” in the 1990s. Horkheimer offered the show free to PBS stations, about 200 of which carry it.

In 2000 Horkheimer received the prestigious Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was lauded for making astronomy “so attractive that people can’t help but be interested in learning about it.”

He ended every installment of “Star Gazer” with these words: “Keep looking up.”

Horkheimer, who never married, had no immediate survivors.