A popular TV personality in the 1980s and 1990s, actor Jim J. Bullock rose to stardom as the eternally confused Monroe Ficus on "Too Close for Comfort" (ABC/syndicated, 1980-86) before enjoying a sporadic career as characters whose gay sensibilities matched or exaggerated his own sexual orientation. His combative interplay with series star Ted Knight was often the highlight of the show, but Bullock struggled to turn the show's popularity into lasting fame. After publicly outing himself in 1990, he soon found himself out of work and HIV positive, which further hampered his career. By the late 1990s, Bullock had suffered through drug addiction and the loss of his longtime partner. He rebounded in the new millennium through award-winning turns on the Los Angeles stage and television series like "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" (Nickelodeon, 2004-07), and helped to underscore the notion that with talent and determination, performers could thrive and survive under the most difficult of situations.
Born Jackson James Bullock on Feb. 9, 1955 in Casper, WY, he was raised in a Southern Baptist home in Odessa, TX. Bullock's teenage years were filled with internal conflict: he had planned to become a Baptist minister, even receiving a scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist University, but struggled to reconcile his career decision with his sexual orientation. Eventually, he left the university without graduating, and headed for Dallas, where he worked in dinner theater. He eventually saved enough money from his job at a truck stop to move to Hollywood, where he toiled as a waiter and courier while performing stand-up comedy at night. In 1980, Bullock launched his acting career with the sitcom "Too Close for Comfort," which starred Ted Knight as a cartoonist with a short fuse and two adult daughters (Deborah Van Valkenburgh and Lydia Cornell) living downstairs from him and his wife (Nancy Dussault). Billed as "Jm" J Bullock, with an intentionally missing "i" in his first name, he was cast as Cornell's friend Monroe, whose dense demeanor frequently sent Knight into apoplectic splutters. Initially, Monroe was slated to appear in a single episode, but producers liked Bullock's take on the character, and made him a series regular. He would remain with the series throughout its convoluted tenure on television, which saw it canceled by ABC in 1982, then revived in syndication in 1984 and completely revamped in 1985, with Knight taking over a Marin County newspaper and Monroe doing his best to bungle his new job as a reporter. Now titled "The Ted Knight Show," the series ran until the actor's death from colon cancer in 1986.
In 1985, while riding out the turbulent evolution of "Too Close For Comfort," Bullock discovered that he was HIV-positive. At the time, he had not publicly disclosed his homosexuality, fearing that it would harm his acting career, and with the barrage of conflicting and often ill-informed information regarding the disease during this period, Bullock found himself in even more dire straits. To combat growing public queries about his sexuality, he instructed his publicist to arrange press photo opportunities that showed him with a variety of "girlfriends." While Bullock struggled to keep the truth about his health and identity a secret, the popularity of "Too Close" had boosted him to stardom. He soon became a favored guest on talk shows and game shows, most notably the edition of "Hollywood Squares" (NBC/syndicated, 1966-2004) hosted by John Davidson and featuring Joan Rivers in the center square. Bullock's saucy wit and personality made him one of the show's most popular guests, overshadowing even Rivers, and he frequently filled in for Davidson as guest host. He was less successful in landing more acting roles, though he enjoyed an amusing turn as an addled prince in Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs" and appeared in a recurring role as sad sack Neal Tanner, who found an unlikely friend in the alien "ALF" (NBC, 1986-1990). The latter series was a particularly miserable experience for Bullock due to its elaborate technical issues involving the alien puppet, which in turn made for one of the most infamously negative productions of the 1980s and 1990s.
Following the cancellation of "ALF" in 1990, Bullock's career took a downward turn. He found it increasingly difficult to land substantial work, which was further complicated by his public disclosure about his sexuality on "The Joan Rivers Show" (syndicated, 1989-1993). He soon depleted his finances and filed for bankruptcy, which resulted in the loss of his home. The sole bright spot during this period was his partner, John Casey, whom he met in 1990. In 1996, Bullock rebounded as the co-host of "The Jim J and Tammy Faye Show" (syndicated, 1996), a bizarre talk-variety show co-starring disgraced televangelist Tammy Faye Baker. The series found favor with cult-minded TV viewers, who tuned in to watch the surreal interplay between Bullock and Baker, but its producers, who sought a more mainstream program, pulled the plug on the show shortly after Baker's departure due to health issues. That year, tragedy struck when Casey passed away from AIDS-related complications. Bullock's HIV status was soon leaked to the press, and worsened a growing depression that would soon overwhelm him. He turned to crystal meth as a means of coping with his issues, which led to a 1999 arrest for possession. The experienced was a defining one for the actor, who soon found sobriety.
Bullock returned to acting in 1999 as the voice of "Queer Duck" (Showtime, 2002-04), a series of flash animation shorts about a gay duck that dealt with his ultra-straight relatives and openly gay friends. The series received praise from critics and audiences alike, and even generated a 2006 movie, which aired on the Logo Channel. Its popularity led to a revival of Bullock's acting career, which soon came to encompass a starring role in the 2000 stage musical "When Pigs Fly," which earned Bullock a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for his performance. He also enjoyed a regular stint on the Game Show Networks' gay-themed revival of the old panel show "I've Got a Secret" (2006) and essayed the role of Wilbur Turnblad in the national tour of the musical "Hairspray," which he later reprised on Broadway. From 2004 to 2007, he appeared on the Nickelodeon series "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" as Mr. Monroe, the Life Science teacher and boy's basketball coach who also ran the Sewing Club. During this period, he was also a frequent guest on the daytime soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" (CBS, 1987- ) as Serge, a flamboyant wedding planner, and provided voices for "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the World" (Logo, 2007- ), a sitcom with characters created from children's building toys.