“Hellooohhhh. How are ya? I am Arnold HorshAAAAAck” can now only be heard in reruns as the actor, Ron Palillo, who made the phrase popular on the hit television show “Welcome Back, Kotter,” has died. A lifelong heavy smoker, Palillo died in his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. of a heart attack.
Palillo played the lovable Arnold Horshack on the show from 1975 through 1979 – the same years I was in high school. He and his fellow ‘Sweathogs’ – a name given to a class of misfits and underachievers taught by the affable Mr. Kotter, gave us all something to relate to and laugh at in ourselves.
Palillo had a bit of a rough childhood. At the age of 10, he lost his father to lung cancer and then developed a stutter. His mother, hoping to help him overcome his speech problem, got him involved in the theater. He fell in love with the performing arts and soon lost the stutter. He later attended the University of Connecticut and honed his craft playing parts in Shakespeare productions.
The Connecticut native was certain he’d be passed over for the role of the Brooklyn high school nerd for those with a tougher New York persona. It was his dying father’s wheezing laugh he used to create the hyena-like, trademark laugh of Arnold Horshack.
The series lasted about as long as my own high school years did and I seldom missed an episode,. Arnold and the boys were immensely entertaining and relatable and even kind of cute. Don’t forget – it was this show that catapulted an unknown John Travolta from obscurity to overnight sensation as Vinnie Barbarino. check out the video clip of the Sweathogs on the left.
Horshack was tender, naïve and arguably the smartest of his classmates. Palillo shared that tenderness. In spite of being overshadowed by his famous early role, he held no resentment toward the character that fans still love today. Though he found work in TV and film, it was never what he hoped for. His career moved to stage directing and writing.
He leaves behind Joseph Gramm, his partner of 41 years, two brothers and a sister.
You can subscribe to this column at the top of the page so you don’t miss any television news. Or check out the latest in movie news at:
- Southern Illinois Movie Examiner
If you are looking for things to do in southern Illinois or have an interest in self-sustained living, check out my other columns:
- Southern Illinois Day Trip Examiner
- Southern Illinois Self-Sustained Living Examiner
Got something to say? Say it on Examiner by following this link to sign up.