Cheers was that special kind of place you would go to when you needed to lighten your spirits. If you visit the bar, you can guarantee that you’ll walk out, perhaps stumble out in a brighter mood. After all, it was an establishment where ‘everybody knows your name’. If only it wasn’t fictional. We could all benefit from a place like that these days.
The primary bartender and owner of the humble dive, Sam Malone, can be an insufferable philanderer at times. It is the 70s, after all – but he can also be a pretty swell fella. When he was on his best behavior, he was downright lovable.
The waitresses Carla Tortelli and Diane Chambers – Sam’s love interests in the show that shares the iconic bar’s name.
Coach Ernie Pantuso and Woody Boyd were other couples of faces audiences would become quite familiar with over the years. Regular patrons of the bar included Norm Peterson, Frasier Crane, and Cliff Clavin. If the names sound familiar, that’s because Cheers helps launch what’s one of the best spin-off series in television, Frasier.
Cheers ran on NBC from 1982 to 1993, making it one of the longest sitcoms to air on network television. You’ll shock to learn that it is almost canceled after it ranks last in the ratings for its premiere. After audiences begin to realize just how great the show is, though, it becomes a Nielsen rating juggernaut in America. For eight of its 11 seasons, it earns top-ten ratings – including one season when it takes the number one spot.
But what made the show such a success? Most will probably point to its incredible ensemble cast. Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, Rhea Perlman, Woody Harrelson, and Kelsey Grammer all gave unforgettable performances on the long-running series. Sadly, but not surprisingly, quite a few of Cheers cast members have passed away in the three decades since the show ended. Join Facts Verse as we reflect on the Cheers cast deaths that fans still haven’t recovered from.
Best known for his iconic role as Coach Ernie Pantusso on Cheers, Colasanto was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on January 19, 1924. After attending Bryant University, Nicholas joined the United States Navy and served as a coxswain in World War II. Once discharged, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Even though most remember him as Coach, Colasanto also directed many episodes of television shows like Bonanza, Columbo, Starsky & Hutch, and ChiPs. He also appeared in movies such as Fat City, The Counterfeit Killer, and Raging Bull.
Colasanto landed his role on Cheers at a point in his career when he was preparing to retire. During the 70s, he was diagnosed with heart disease and his health had began to deteriorate due to his alcoholism. Even after getting sober with the help of AA, by Cheers’ third season, Colasanto’s health had deteriorated to the point that his fellow castmates were starting to notice.
Shortly the Christmas in 1984, Colasanto admits to the hospital with fluid in his lungs. Ted Danson would later recall that Nicholas had been having trouble remembering his lines during that time.
He releases from the hospital two weeks later, but his doctor urged him not to go back to work. Ignoring that advice, Colasanto continued to perform in several more episodes before having a heart attack and dying at his home on February 12, 1985. He was 61 when he passed.
Colasanto’s character removes from the show as also having passed away. The unforgettable fourth season premiere ‘Birth, Death, Love and Rice’, dealt with Coach’s death and introduced his successor Woody Boyd, played by Woody Harrelson in his first major role.
During Cheers’ finale in 1993, Ted Danson‘s Sam Malone walks over to a picture of Coach and straightens it. It was a subtle gesture, but it was nice to see Colasanto honored in such a way.
Born Jon Thomas Terrell on July 12, 1948, Thomas was a prolific actor, comedian, and radio personality. Some of his most notable acting roles included that of Remo DaVinci on Mork & Mindi and the recurring role of Eddie Lebec, a goalie for the Boston Bruins on Cheers.
While he didn’t appear in a lot of Cheers’ episodes, he was still quite memorable. Eddie ended up dying in the episode ‘Death Takes a Holiday on Ice‘ when he runs over by a Zamboni machine while saving the life of another member of an ‘on ice‘ show. At his funeral, it reveals that he married two women. To avoid confusion with Eddie’s other wife, Gloria, Carla changes her surname back to Tortelli.
It believes that the death of Jay Thomas’ character stemmed from unsavory comments that he made about Rhea Perlman on a radio show – although he would deny this allegation.
After leaving Cheers in 1989, Thomas would go on to play the newspaper columnist Jack Stein on Love & War and talk-show host Jerry Gold on Murphy Brown.
Jay died of throat cancer on August 24, 2017, in Santa Barbara, California, at age 69.
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Stay tuned to learn about several other Cheers’ cast members that have passed away since the series came to an end almost 30 years ago.
Born on May 5, 1944, Rees was a Welsh actor and director best known by American audiences for his roles as Robin Colcord on Cheers and Lord John Marbury on The West Wing. Rees was also notable for being a Tony Award-winning stage actor. He performed as the lead in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and gave another award-winning performance in The End Of The Day.
Ree’s character Robin Colcord was an English multi-millionaire industrialist. For much of the time that he appeared on the show, Colcord was the love interest for the gold-digger Rebecca Howe, played by Kirstie Alley.
This dynamic led to him becoming a rival of sorts of Sam Malone since he also shared a romantic interest in Rebecca. Later in the series, Robin ended up losing his wealth and status after being caught up in a legal scandal.
After being sent to prison and being stripped of his money, Robin and Rebecca hitchhiked out of town together in the season 11 episode “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Bar”.
Rees was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014. A year later, he died at the age of 71 at his home in New York on July 10, 2015.
This character actor was born on February 15, 1923, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Some of his most notable roles were in 1993s Silver, 1978s Heaven Can Wait, and 1966s Dark Shadows: The Vampire Curse. He was a life-long member of the Latter Day Saints Church.
Curtis had a recurring role on Cheers playing John Allen Hill, the owner of Melville’s Restaurant.
Curtis died from complications stemming from Alzheimer’s disease on October 13, 2002, in a nursing home in Bountiful, Utah. He was 79.
Born on October 14, 1952, Anderson spent most of his acting career on television. He is perhaps best known for his leading role of Judge Harry on Night Court. He would later star in the sitcom Dave’s World.
Anderson appeared in six episodes of Cheers as Harry ‘The Hat’ Gittes, a lanky well-dressed man who wore glasses, suspenders, and his trademark fedora hat. Gittes frequently tried to swindle customers and employees of the bar with a handful of short cons. As such, he was never quite welcome there.
Post-Cheers, Anderson continued to act up until 2014, when he gave his final performance in the Christian drama film A Matter of Faith.
In January 2018, Anderson had a series of strokes after a bout with influenza. He died in his sleep at his home in Asheville, North Carolina, several months later on April 16. He was 65.
Born Albert Rosen on May 9, 1910, in Maryland, Rosen got his start acting in several films in the 40s. In the 70s, he worked as a production supervisor on the television program What’s My Line? In the 80s, he experienced a bit of second wind with his acting career when he was cast in a handful of TV series and movie roles.
The most notable role from this period of his career was the recurring character Big Al on Cheers. AL was frequently seen, albeit briefly, throughout much of the series run. He normally sat at the back end of the bar, typically dressed in a plaid blazer or suit and always wearing his signature hat. He spoke with a deep, gravelly voice and occasionally switched things up by sitting at a table.
Rosen died of Cancer on August 2, 1990 in Hollywood, California at the age of 80.
The season 9 episode of Cheers ‘Norm and Cliff’s Excellent Adventure’ was dedicated to him.
This actor and businessman is probably best known for being the father of Rhea Perlman. He was born in Poland on August 15, 1919, and started acting after retiring from his career in the toy and doll industry.
On Cheers, Perlman played Phil, appearing in more than 140 episodes. He would later reprise that role in the Cheers’ spin-off Frasier.
Phil was one of the Cheers barflies. He was an older gentleman who typically sat by himself at the back left of the bar near his buddy Al.
Perlman appeared in several films throughout his acting career as well, including 1987s Throw Momma from the Train and 1999s Man on the Moon.
He died of natural causes in April 2015 in Los Angeles at the age of 95.
That about wraps up this video, but that means now it’s your turn to let your voice be heard. Who was your favorite Cheers character? And which cast member death stands out to you as being the most tragic? Let us know in the comments.
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