Smyrl was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the year, his wife, Cheryl, told the Associated Press.
“He was loved by so many people,” Cheryl Smyrl told the AP. “He was a mentor to a lot of children. He was a family man, loyal, true and faithful.”
Smyrl portrayed Handford — the cheerful, retired firefighter who ran Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street — from 1990 to 1998, taking over the role from Leonard Jackson, who had a much grumpier take on the beloved character.
“You get to act stupid,” Smyrl told the Connecticut newspaper the Record-Journal about what drew him to the role. “It’s fun! I get to do fun things like dance with Gloria Estefan.”
Born in north Philadelphia in 1935, he began his television career in the 1970s on the show “Express Yourself.” He also worked as a writer and played contractor Sam Lucas on “The Cosby Show.”
Smyrl won a People’s Choice Award for his work on the ’70s sitcom sitcom “Benson.”
In addition to his wife, he’s also survived by his stepson, Pancho Scott. Smyrl’s funeral will be held on Monday.