Aug 25, 2012

Goodbye, Horshack

Ron Palilo, who played cute-but-nerdy sweathog Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79), has died at age 63.  Kotter made him a household name.  He didn't appear much on tv or in movies afterwards, but he was busy in live theater, and later he used his love of acting to become a drama teacher. He is survived by his partner of 41 years, Joseph Gramm.

I didn't watch Kotter very often.  The story  -- about a wisecracking underachiever who decides to move back to his old community and teach the new generation of underachievers at his old high school -- didn't appeal to me, when I was trying my best to get out of my home town.  I usually watched Chips instead.

I haven't seen enough episodes to determine if there was any significant gay content, but the closing bits always involved Kotter in bed with his wife, doing comedy schtick ("Hey, Julie, did I ever tell you about my Uncle Eddie?").  A man who uses standup comedy to stall for time when his wife wants to have sex -- sounds gay-vague to me.

The plotlines and catchphrases became part of the zeitgeist.  John Travolta, who played greaser Vinnie Barbarino, became a big star, thanks to some good movie roles (like Grease in 1978), and the strategic placement of beefcake shots.

But I liked Robert Hegyes as the Puerto Rican Jewish Juan Epstein: an Afro, a hairy chest, sleeveless shirts that displayed firm biceps, and a con-artist grin.  He specialized in forged notes from home: "Dear Mr. Kotter, please excuse Epstein today. He's sick. Signed, Epstein's Mother."

And there was a lot to be said for Horshack's quiet lunacy.


  1. Ron was a great guy and will be missed! We used to hang out at HG Roosters in West Palm Beach, Florida and toss back a couple of drinks after he would finish teaching. Him and Travolta kept in touch, as on more than one occasion Ron would be talking with him on his cell phone.

  2. I always found Ron much cuter than Travolta. Travolta always looked too sure of himself, but Palillo had a more subdued hotness.


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