Onetime Taxi driver Jeff Conaway passed away on Friday at a Los Angeles hospital. The actor was taken off life support after doctors were unable to revive him two weeks after he was placed in a medically induced coma.
Conaway had arrived at the hospital unconscious and with pneumonia, the result of “just too many prescribed drugs,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Conaway’s myriad here-and-there TV credits include The Bold and the Beautiful (as fashion fotog Mick Savage) and Babylon 5 (where he played Security Chief Zack Allan). But it’s the role of forever aspiring — and somewhat daft — actor Bobby Wheeler that most TV viewers will remember him from. An original cast member, Conaway would appear in 55 episodes, or about half of the late-1970s/early ’80s comedy’s run.
Of his occasional big-screen forays, he was best known as Danny Zuko’s BFF Kenickie in 1978’s Grease. (His DA’d Casanova memorably boasted, “A hickey from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card.”)
I was a big fan of TV’s Taxi growing up, up to and through Conaway’s exit and the show’s gradual morphing into the Latka Gravas Half-Hour. As HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall smartly pointed out, while Conaway seldom benefited form the best showcases, episodes such as “High School Reunion” — in which Bobby tackled the role of lewd-n-crude boss man Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito) — allowed him the occasional chance to shine. Watch the seminal scene from that episode here:
Another goodie was “Bobby and the Critic,” in which the hapless thespian, roused by a vicious review of his latest (short-lived) play, banged out a nasty letter to the local critic. Bobby bailed on mailing the missive, but Louie was glad to secretly send it out. The result was much fan mail for brave Bobby… and a VIP RSVP for his next stage gig that made his heart drop.
That an OD-induced coma played a role in Conaway’s eventual fate is no great surprise to those who watched the actor on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew recount and recant for his drug-hazed days as a young actor — a habit that played some role in his truncated Taxi run. Still, it’s always terribly sad to say goodbye to any piece of a beloved TV series, one that gave birth to stars such as DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza and Andy Kaufman.