Ron Palillo, of 'Welcome Back, Kotter,' dies at 63

Ron Palillo

Credit: Getty Images

Actor Ron Palillo participated in a Salute To John Travolta in December, 2004, (Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)


by Associated Press

Associated Press

Posted on August 14, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 14 at 7:53 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ron Palillo, the actor best known as the nerdy high school student Arnold Horshack on the 1970s sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," died Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 63.

Palillo could not be revived after suffering an apparent heart attack at his home about 4 a.m., said Karen Poindexter, a close friend of the actor. He was pronounced dead at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

Palillo was inextricably linked to the character he played from 1975 to 1979 on "Kotter," the ABC sitcom, in which the title character returns to his Brooklyn alma mater to a group of loveable wiseguys known as the Sweathogs. Horshack was the nasally teen who yelped, "Oooh, oooh," as his hand shot skyward when a teacher posed a question.

Though the show was a ratings success, and propelled co-star John Travolta to stardom, the series only lasted as long as a high school education. For Palillo, its end brought difficulty.

He said he felt exiled throughout the 1980s, unable to find parts, sinking into depression, and rarely venturing from his apartment. When offers did come, he felt typecast as Horshack.

"While I loved him, I really loved him, I didn't want to do him forever," he told the Birmingham News in 1994.

Palillo was born April 2, 1949, in Cheshire, Conn. His father died of lung cancer when he was 10 and he developed a stutter. His mother thought getting him involved in a local theater might help. He fell in love with the stage. He attended the University of Connecticut and earned parts in Shakespearean productions before his big break.

When he auditioned for "Kotter," he thought he'd be passed over for others who had more of a tough-guy New York look. His dying father's voice inspired his character's wheezing laugh, he told the News.