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Ron Palillo, Horshack on ‘Welcome Back, Kotter,’ Dies at 63

By    |   Tuesday, 14 August 2012 04:31 PM

Ron Palillo, the actor best known as the nerdy high school student Arnold Horshack on the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died on Tuesday morning from a heart attack in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 63.

Palillo could not be revived after suffering an apparent heart attack at his home at about 4 a.m., said Karen Poindexter, a close friend of the actor, according to MSN.

He was found by his partner of 41 years, Joseph Gramm, a retired actor, Fox News reports. Palillo was pronounced dead at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

Palillo played the character from 1975 to 1979 on the ABC sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter.” The title character returns to his Brooklyn alma mater to a group of loveable wiseguys known as the “Sweathogs.”

He is the second Sweathog to die this year.

On the show, Horshack always nasally yelped “Ooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter" as his hand shot skyward when Mr. Kotter, played by Gabe Kaplan, posed a question.

The show was a ratings success, propelling co-star John Travolta to stardom, but bringing difficulty for Palillo when it ended.

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," Palillo 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, MSN reports. His mother thought getting him involved in a local theater might help – and he fell in love with the stage.

Palillo attended the University of Connecticut and earned parts in Shakespearean productions before his big break.

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

Palillo is the second Sweathog to die this year. Actor Robert Hegyes, who played Epstein on the show, died in January at the age of 60.

Travolta and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who played Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington, are the only surviving members of the foursome of misbehaving students.

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