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August 15, 2012

Ron Palillo, Welcome Back, Kotter's Arnold Horshack

Palillio was a veteran stage actor before becoming a pop-culture phenom as Horshack.

Ron Palillo, an actor best known for the role of lovable misfit Arnold Horshack, one of the students known as the Sweathogs in the popular 1970s comedy series Welcome Back, Kotter, died August 14, 2012, at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He was 63.

According to news reports, the cause was an apparent heart attack.

Kotter, about a teacher who returns to work at the Brooklyn school he attended years before, starred comedian Gabriel Kaplan as teacher Gabe Kotter, and Palillo, John Travolta, Larence Hilton-Jacobs and Robert Hegyes as the main Sweathogs.

The show aired from 1975 to 1979.

With his signature nasal laugh and habit of shooting his hand into the air and calling out, "Oooh, ooooh, oooh," whenever his teacher asked a question in class, Horshack was in some respects an ur-television nerd. So much so that some journalists have cited him as an inspiration for such gawky, geeky sitcom characters as Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White on Family Matters, Screech, played by Dustin Diamond on Saved by the Bell and Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons on The Big Bang Theory.

For Palillo, Horshack was something of a double-edged sword. The the character brought him fame and success, but it made such an impact on late-’70s pop culture that Palillo at times found it difficult to find more expansive roles in the ensuing years.

He was born Ronald Paolillo on April 2, 1949, in Cheshire, Connecticut, and began performing as an adolescent, when his mother suggested it as a way to overcome a stutter. Not only did he young man's speech improved, he grew to love the theater.

At 14, Palillo started his own summer theater in Cheshire, Connecticut. After graduating from high school, he went to the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he majored in drama.

He went on to work extensively in the theater before getting his break on Kotter.

his other TV appearances included The Love Boat, The A Team, CHiPS, Murder, She Wrote, Cagney & Lacey and a regular role on the daytime drama One Life to Live.

Survivors include Joseph Graham, his partner of 41 years, as well as two brothers and a sister.

Additional coverage of his passing is available at:

NBC.com

Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal

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