WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Ron Palillo, the actor best known as the nerdy high school student Arnold Horshack on the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 63.
Palillo suffered an apparent heart attack at his home about 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
Palillo was inextricably linked with the character he played from 1975 to 1979 on “Kotter,” the hit ABC sitcom, in which title character Gabe Kotter returns to his Brooklyn alma mater to teach a group of loveable wiseguys known as the Sweathogs. Horshack was the nasally teen who yelped, “Oooh, ooh,” and shot his hand skyward whenever Kotter posed a question.
The show was a ratings success and pop cultural phenomenon, propelling co-star John Travolta to stardom. But the series only lasted as long as a high school education and its end, for Palillo, brought difficulty.
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,” he told the Birmingham News in 1994.
Besides Travolta, who played Vinnie Barbarino, also cast for the series was Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington and Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein. Hegyes died earlier this year.