Actor Ron Palillo, who played goofball Horshack opposite a young John Travolta in the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, died suddenly early this morning at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
He was 63.
Palillo moved to the local gated community of Mirasol three years ago when he accepted an acting teacher’s job at the G-Star School of the Arts, a West Palm Beach charter school for children interested in television and movies.
He lived with a long-time life partner, retired actor Joe Gramm, who called 911 early this morning when Palillo experienced difficulties breathing. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance and was pronounced dead about 4:30 a.m.
A woman who answered the phone at Palillo’s home said there was no foul play involved in the death.
Over the past month, according to G-Star founder Greg Hauptner, Palillo suffered from whooping cough.
“Ron’s health wasn’t the greatest,” Hauptner tells me. “He had major intestinal surgery last year.”
Still, Hauptner said he was stunned to hear about Palillo’s passing this morning. He taught the “acting for a camera” class.
“He was a fantastic teacher,” Hauptner said. “The kids adored him. They’d find old recordings of Welcome Back, Kotter and watch Ron. The kids are coming back to school next week. They’re going to be crushed.”
Palillo fell in love with the area a few years ago when he performed in a play downtown West Palm Beach. Through mutual acquaintances, Palillo struck a friendship with Hauptner, who hired him to teach at the school.
Palillo will be remembered for his role of the sitcom’s long-haired high school student Arnold Horshack, who often squealed “Ooooh, oooh Mr. Kotter” while raising his hand. The series aired from 1975 to 1979. Later, Palillo’s TV roles were confined to guest appearances.