Ron Palillo dies: 'Welcome Back, Kotter's Horshack was 63
Ron Palillo, who played Arnold Horshack on the 1970s comedy show "Welcome Back, Kotter," has died at age 63.
The actor passed away early on Tuesday, August 14, his rep told OnTheRedCarpet.com. He had suffered a heart attack near Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, his agent told CNN. The Palm Beach Post newspaper quoted a friend of Palillo's as saying that he died earning that morning.
The outlet said the actor is survived by his partner of 41 years, Joseph Gramm, a retired actor.
From 1975 to 1979, Pallilo played the class clown on "Welcome Back, Kotter," where he coined catchphrases such as "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Mr. Kotter!" and "Hullo, howaya."
"Ron was a great colleague and friend," Gabe Kaplan, who played teacher Mr. Kotter and also co-created the show, told OnTheRedCarpet.com in a statement. "I had been talking about Horshack in my nightclub act and on TV for years before 'WBK' started. When Ron walked into the audition and did his first line 'Hello, how are you, I'm Arnold Horshack,' I said, 'That's him, that's the guy I've been talking about for five years.""Welcome Back, Kotter" helped launch the film career of cast member John Travolta. Palillo made his own big screen debut in the 1979 movie "Skatetown, U.S.A." and later appeared in films such as "Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI" in 1986.
He had small roles on shows such as "The Love Boat" and ''Cagney and Lacey" and played Gary Warren on the soap opera "One Life to Live."
In 2002, he fought "Saved By The Bell" actor Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on the show, on the short-lived FOX show "Celebrity Boxing" and lost.
"He paved the way for Screech-like characters for earlier generations. He will be missed," Diamond said about Palillo in a statement to OnTheRedCarpet.com, issued through his manager.
Palillo's last on-screen role was in the 2010 independent film "It's a Dog Gone Tale: Destiny's Stand," which also starred Barry Bostwick.
"A month after ['Welcome Back, Kotter'] went on the air and it was a hit, I said to myself, 'Oh my God, I'm going to be Arnold Horshack for the rest of my life' and started crying,' Palillo told the Associated Press in 1991.
The actor, a native of Cheshire, Connecticut, lived in Los Angeles for most of his on-screen career and moved to New York in the late 1980s and acted in stage plays in a bid to shed his "Kotter" image.
"The best thing is those people aren't calling me Horshack," he told the Associated Press. "They're calling me Ron. That's the best."
In the Big Apple, he earned rave reviews for his performance in the one-man play "The Diary of Adolf Eichmann" at the Jewish Theater of New York.
Palillo had moved to Florida in his later years to be closer to his mother, CNN said. He taught acting at G-Star School of the Arts, a charter school in Palm Springs, for about three years, the Palm Beach Post said.
The actor served as the artistic director for the Cuillo Center for the Arts in West Palm Beach. There, he also directed and performed in plays such as "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline" and a new version of "The Phantom of the Opera."
Palillo's "Welcome Back, Kotter" co-star Robert Hegyes, who played Jewish Puerto Rican student Juan Epstein on the show, died at age 60 on January 26.