When Life Imitates Art

He has been a host on Family Feud and The National Dog Show, King Arthur in Spamalot, a Dancing with the Stars champion and, most recently, Billy Flynn in a Chicago touring ensemble. He’s a self-taught pianist and composer, an author, a businessman and a scratch golfer. Despite his diverse résumé, John O’Hurley remains best known as Seinfeld’s J. Peterman, a fictionalized clothing-catalog entrepreneur-turned-warlord poet in Myanmar (“It will always be Burma to me, Elaine”).

In the ultimate example of life imitating art, O’Hurley helped refinance the real J. Peterman company in 2001, becoming partners with its founder, John Peterman. “It just made perfect business sense to me,” says O’Hurley, a principal partner in two venture capital companies. “And as Marshall McLuhan used to say, the message and the medium will eventually become indistinguishable. I’m a living example of that—where I just played a character and now I own the company. I refer to it as the greatest act of identity theft in American business.”

Aside from his singular role on the NBC sitcom, O’Hurley’s rich baritone voice and trademark silver coif make him instantly recognizable—if not a household name.

“John Peterman and I will actually walk down the street after a board meeting—and this has truly happened on more than one occasion—and head off to lunch together and every other person, because Seinfeld was so popular in New York, will stop and say ‘Hey, Peterman!’—and they’re not talking to him.”

O’Hurley is the first to laugh at it all, and at himself. “I will always take a swing to myself before anybody else gets a shot.” For example, he admits to being the only theater graduate in his class at Providence College in 1976. “So consequently I won the theater award—but not by much.”

 Catch John O’Hurley co-hosting NBC’s The National Dog Show presented by Purina after the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving Day. 

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