Twenty years ago "Girlfriends" premiered on UPN (which later became The CW) and earlier this month the sitcom became available to stream on Netflix, inspiring an enthusiastic rewatch of the classic show. What most people didn't know is that one of its stars, Reggie Hayes, had just experienced a serious health scare.
The show that put Tracee Ellis Ross on the map, "Girlfriends" ran from 2000-2008 and it centers around the lives and loves of four Black women, played by Ross, Golden Brooks, Jill Marie Jones and Persia White. Playing their steadfast pal (who would occasionally become a bit more) is Hayes as William Jerrowme Dent, Esq.
On Sept. 18, Hayes was admitted to the hospital. "We're still not sure what's going on, I gotta take more tests," he said by phone earlier this week. "But I have congestive heart failure and it was difficult to breathe. Here in LA, the sky has been orange with smoke (because of wildfires) and it was just really terrible. So I was in the hospital overnight, they were having trouble getting my blood pressure back down. Seems like the more they look, the more problems they find. The good thing is, I don't have the coronavirus."
Though he found success on "Girlfriends," the last decade or so has been challenging. "It's not my most proud time," he said. Few TV actors make enough money to never have to work again, and Hayes said he wasn't getting many opportunities when the show came to a close. "I had starred on this long running show but I wasn't Matt LeBlanc or one of the other kids from 'Friends' who had doors opening for them after their show ended. Pretty much, I was just another guy."
There had been talk of a "Girlfriends" spinoff starring Hayes, but that never materialized. "I was getting a lot of winks and nods about that, and it just didn't work out."
It was a difficult time, money-wise. "I had started a complete rebuild on my house and all of a sudden I didn't have a job. But the house was on an amazing piece of land and I was able to sell it and break even. So I moved from a house on the hill down to a little bungalow in a sketchy area and people would come by: "What the hell are you doing here?" Those were pretty awful years. I made it work with my little residual checks for a year and then I ended up moving into my sister's garage for six years."
He would book guest roles here and there, "but it wasn't really enough to get by. It's hard, you can't even get a day job because people come in and take pictures of you and put it on the internet," he said, referencing "The Cosby Show" actor Geoffrey Owens, who was photographed while working a shift at Trader Joe's in 2018.
"I tried being a bouncer for a while, and everyone in the club wanted their picture taken with me," Hayes said. "I'm 6'2" but everybody knows I'm like a mouse; once you know me, you know I'm a pushover. So that didn't work out. I also tried being a furniture mover, but I was in my 40s so that only lasted a couple of days. My back never would have survived it."
He has since found some "nice roommates and moved to the Valley and I started to work a little more," he said. "And with 'Girlfriends' on Netflix and everybody talking about it again, it's a really nice warm feeling."
Like most young actors who move to Los Angeles on a hope and a prayer, the stakes were high when he auditioned for the role of William.