LAFAYETTE — Of all the Midwest auto dealers who ever graced the small screen as their own TV pitchman, few were as delightfully campy as Bob Rohrman.
Rohrman’s low-budget commercials radiated good humor and bad production, featuring his mustachioed and bespectacled face peering out from a variety of goofy costumes, a uniquely awkward delivery and flubbed lines that often devolved into a joyous cackle.
The spots were punctuated by a cheesy cartoon lion and the tag line: “There’s only one Bob ROHRRRR-man!”
Somehow it all worked, turning the Bob Rohrman Auto Group into one of the largest family-owned dealership groups in the Midwest, and its spokesman/founder into something of a Chicago celebrity.
Rohrman, 87, died of natural causes Tuesday evening in his Schaumburg condo, a family spokesman said Wednesday.
Born in a log cabin on a rented farm in Lafayette, Indiana, as the ninth of 11 children, Rohrman “started from humble beginnings,” according to his dealership website and a 2015 autobiography, “A Fantastic Ride, “ which he handed out to customers.
A 1952 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School, Rohrman began selling cars at Glenn R. Pittman Ford in his hometown after serving two years in the Army during the Korean War. In 1963, he launched his first dealership, a Lafayette used-car lot, and opened his first new car dealership, a Toyota franchise, seven years later.
Over the years, his auto group expanded to Illinois and Wisconsin, and now comprises 27 dealerships, including 12 in the Chicago area.
But it was his ubiquitous TV commercials that made him a household name in Chicago. During Halloween, he was Count Bobula, a caped vampire gesturing in front of a cardboard cemetery set to “take a bite out of high prices,” while at Christmastime he was Santa Bob, hyping holiday sales. Other characters included Dr. Bob the Car-Deal-Ologist, a “Star Wars” Stormtrooper and a king.
For some, the favored spots were his blooper reels, a succession of outtakes only slightly less polished than the finished product, where Rohrman would blow his lines, crack himself up and good-naturedly mug for the camera.
Divorced three times, Rohrman’s private life went public in 2009, when he filed an alienation of affection lawsuit against a Chicago plastic surgeon for allegedly seducing his third wife, Ronda, wooing her with expensive meals and gifts.
Rohrman, who maintained a modest home in Lafayette throughout his adult life, contributed tens of millions of dollars to a variety of causes, including a $3.5 million donation in 2007 to help build the Rohrman Performing Arts Center at his high school alma mater.
Last year, Rohrman donated $15 million to renovate the football field at Purdue University’s Ross Ade Stadium, which was renamed Rohrman Field in his honor.
Rohrman is survived by three sons, two daughters, 16 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, 27 car dealerships and a treasure trove of TV commercials.