Nicholas Colasanto (January 19, 1924 – February 12, 1985) was an American actor and television director, known for his role as Coach Ernie Pantusso in the American sitcom Cheers. He served in the United States Navy during World War II. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the 1950s. During his career as a sought after actor and television director throughout his lifetime, he was diagnosed with heart disease in the mid-1970s. By 1984 his worsening symptoms forced him to stop working on Cheers, and he filmed his last full episode in November 1984. He died of a heart attack at his home on February 12, 1985, at age 61.
Colasanto attended Bryant University (now located in Smithfield, Rhode Island) and was a decorated veteran of World War II, when he served as a coxswain in the United States Navy. Around 1954 he was supposed to be an accountant for a company in Saudi Arabia, but he instead attended American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Career and alcoholism
Although Colasanto was best known for his role as Coach Ernie Pantusso on the sitcom Cheers, he also directed episodes of many television series, notably Run for Your Life (1960s), The Name of the Game, Starsky and Hutch, The Streets of San Francisco, and CHiPs. He also directed four Hawaii Five-O episodes of its second season (1969–70), "A Thousand Pardons, You're Dead" (1969), "To Hell with Babe Ruth" (1969), "Just Lucky, I Guess" (1969), and "Most Likely to Murder" (1970); one Bonanza episode, "Ambush at Rio Lobo" (1972); two Columbo episodes, "Étude in Black" (1972) and "Swan Song" (1974); and two episodes of the short-lived 1974 ABC police procedural series Nakia, "No Place to Hide" and "A Matter of Choice." He also appeared in feature films, including Fat City (1972), The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975), and Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976).
An in-demand actor and director, he had been diagnosed in the mid-1970s with heart disease, which was exacerbated by his alcoholism. After twenty years of alcoholism, he became an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous since March 31, 1976, and became sober in the same year. He began having trouble securing directing jobs by the end of the 1970s due to his declining health. His last major film role was a mob boss, Tommy Como in Raging Bull (1980).
Colasanto was prepared to retire when the role of Coach Ernie Pantusso was offered to him on Cheers. Coach would become Colasanto's best known role.
Suffering from heart disease, his health worsened by the third season of Cheers. Castmates noticed his weight loss, though the actor chose to keep the severity of his illness a secret. Shortly after the Christmas holiday in 1984, he was admitted to a local hospital due to water in his lungs. Co-star Ted Danson later commented that the veteran actor had difficulty remembering his lines during production of the season.
When Colasanto was released on the week of January 28 – February 3, 1985, from the hospital after a two-week stay, his doctor recommended that he not return to work. Although he appeared in the cold opening of the third season finale episode, "Rescue Me" (1985), his last full episode was "Cheerio Cheers" (1985), filmed in late November 1984.
Colasanto died of a heart attack at his home on February 12, 1985, at the age of 61. On February 16, 1985, more than three hundred people attended his funeral, including John Ratzenberger, the only cast member of Cheers to do so. NBC would not allow the entire cast to take a break from filming to fly to Providence, Rhode Island where Colasanto's funeral was held. Ratzenberger was sent as a representative for the cast. The cast and crew held a memorial for Colasanto on the set in Los Angeles. He is buried in Saint Ann's Cemetery in Cranston, Rhode Island.
On April 19, 1985, Colasanto was awarded posthumously the Best Supporting Actor by Viewers for Quality Television, a (now defunct) non-profit organization that determined what was considered high-quality on television.
Colasanto's character was written out of the show as also having died. The fourth season premiere episode, "Birth, Death, Love and Rice" (1985), deals with Coach's death as well as introducing Colasanto's successor, Woody Harrelson, as Woody Boyd.
Colasanto hung a picture of Geronimo in his dressing room. After his death, it was placed on the wall in the bar (part of the Cheers production set) in memory of him. Near the end of the final episode of Cheers, bar owner Sam Malone (Ted Danson) walks over to the picture and straightens it.
Fat City (1972)
The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)
Family Plot (1976)
Raging Bull (1980) – Tommy Como, mob boss
Cheers – Coach Ernie Pantusso, co-bartender (1982–84/85)
Run for Your Life (1965–68)
Hawaii Five-O – "A Thousand Pardons, You're Dead" (1969), "To Hell with Babe Ruth" (1969), "Just Lucky, I Guess" (1969), and "Most Likely to Murder" (1970)
Bonanza – "Ambush at Rio Lobo" (1972)
Columbo – "Étude in Black" (1972) and "Swan Song" (1974)
Nakia (1974) – "No Place to Hide" and "A Matter of Choice"
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