KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM (14)
November 10, 2022
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite killed-off TV characters. Series edited by Heather Quinlan.
When Woody Boyd enters Sam Malone’s bar for the first time in Season 4 of Cheers, he asks if Coach Ernie Pantusso is around. Sam replies, “You must not have heard. Coach passed away a couple of months ago, but, yeah, I’d like to think he’s still around.”
In fact, Coach had only been around intermittently over the previous months and years. Nicholas Colasanto, who struggled with health issues throughout Cheers’s third season, was hospitalized around Christmas 1984, and passed away on February 12, 1985.
Season 3 of Cheers had presented a series of challenges for the producers — both lead actors Shelley Long and Rhea Pearlman were pregnant — but the declining health of Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach, was clearly the most significant. While Coach was always a true supporting cast member — only two Season 3 episodes featured him in a central storyline (a two-parter in which his fiancée abandons him after she wins the lottery), Coach begins to fade into the background before our eyes, reduced to fewer and fewer lines and scenes.
By Episode 18, Coach is absent from the show entirely — we’re told that he’s in Vermont getting his driver’s licence renewed. This is mentioned not once but twice, in both halves of the show, presumably, for people tuning in late. In the ensuing episodes he’s in Ohio; then visiting his sister; then not mentioned at all. Unexpectedly, he returns in Episode 22, the final one that Colasanto filmed, and then gone without notice again, only to briefly re-appear in the pre-credits sequence of Season 3’s finale.
Coach’s on-again, off-again season suggests a creative team doing everything it can to forestall the need to deal with a failing cast member. While Colasanto’s health was widely enough reported that viewers understood his absence, prior to his passing there was no suggestion at all that the producers wished to incorporate the character’s death. Every effort was made to suggest that he would be returning when circumstances allowed.
Cheers replaced Coach — the bar’s father figure — by bringing in a man-child in the form of wide-eyed Indiana farm-boy Woody, whose primary job is to fail to grasp the banter among the regular gang. Like Coach, Woody is only barely used in his first season — his main role is to stand behind the bar and smile at the lines delivered by his co-stars. That changed as producers came to better understand Woody Harrelson’s considerable talents (he was nominated for five Emmys in his eight seasons on Cheers, winning once). The generational shift was notable — where Colasanto had been an aging bit player at the end of his time on screen, Harrelson used Cheers as a launching point for an A-list Hollywood career.
In his final full episode, Coach shares a gentle vision of his retirement where he lives with Sam, Diane, and their children. His health, and Long’s career aspirations, conspired against such a rosy outcome, but it was a nice vision for a while.
KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Heather Quinlan | Max Alvarez on LANE PRYCE | Lynn Peril on PETE DUEL | Miranda Mellis on LISA KIMMEL FISHER | Trav SD on COL. HENRY BLAKE | Russ Hodge on DET. BOBBY SIMONE | Kathy Biehl on PHIL HARTMAN| Jack Silbert on MARTY FUNKHOUSER | Catherine Christman on MRS. LANDINGHAM | Kevin J. Walsh on YEOMAN JANICE RAND | Heather Quinlan on DERMOT MORGAN | Adam McGovern on LT. TASHA YAR | Nick Rumaczyk on BEN URICH | Josh Glenn on CHUCKLES THE CLOWN | Bart Beaty on COACH | Krista Margies Kunkle on JOYCE SUMMERS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on DENNY DUQUETTE | Marc Weidenbaum on SGT. PHIL ESTERHAUS | Michael Campochiaro on GORDON CLARK | Fran Pado on EDITH BUNKER | Mark Kingwell on OMAR LITTLE | Bridget Bartolini on ALEX KAMAL | David Smay on VANESSA IVES | Tom Nealon on JOSS CARTER | Michele Carlo on FREDDIE PRINZE | Crockett Doob on AUNT LOUISE.
CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2023): PIZZA PURISM | BOY BANDS | THE ’86 METS | LOVE ISLAND UK | LIVERWURST | & 20 other reconsidered enthusiasms. TEEN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2023): ANDY GIBB | VALERIE BERTINELLI | KIM WILDE | ARLO GUTHRIE | MIKE PATTON | & 20 other heartthrobs from our adolescences. DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2023): WE FOUND IT | TOGETHER AGAIN | SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | FANCY | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) Country records. KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2022): LT. TASHA YAR | JOYCE SUMMERS | COL. HENRY BLAKE | MRS. LANDINGHAM | ALEX KAMAL | & 20 other TV deaths. BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2022): LEFT-CORNER BRICK | JOY IS RESISTANCE | THE FUTURE IS PASSÉ | EVERY MINUTE AN OCEAN | SHUT UP, HE EXPLAINED | & 20 other apothegms to live by. KOJAK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2022): ARK II | WKRP IN CINCINNATI | BUCK ROGERS | THE WHITE SHADOW | POLICE WOMAN | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) TV shows. KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2022): KUILL | CATO | COSMO | TRIXIE | VOLSTAGG | & 20 other sidekicks. NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | DOUBT | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.