BWW Special: Lawrence Leritz on Ron Palillo's Death & Legacy
WELCOME BACK, KOTTER star and theatre vet Ron Palillo died this morning at his home in Palm Beach, FL from an apparent heart attack. BWW asked Palillo's longtime close friend Lawrence Leritz to share his memories of the beloved star.
I received an early call this morning that my closest friend, Ron Palillo, had passed. They wanted to let me know before it hit the media. I appreciated that. Ron, known to the world as 'Horshack' in "Welcome Back Kotter", was someone else to me. Ron was the first person I talked to when anything important was going on. We spoke almost every day.
What people may not know is what an incredible and sensitive person he was. We called ourselves brothers. No matter what was going on in our lives, we were always there for each other 100%. Ron attended many performances of Boobs! The Musical when it was playing Off-Broadway. Ron laughed louder than anyone. His partner of 41 years, Joe Gramm, did the wonderful voice overs for Boobs! The opening voice over got the first laugh in the show's opening. Ron was proud of that.
Ron and I only appeared together once professionally. I played his boxing coach in TV's "Celebrity Boxing 2". When Dustin Diamond hit him in the face, it gave him a black eye. I was so upset that I told Dustin I was going to punch him. Dustin quickly disappeared. I was proud to have defended my best friend.
Ron appeared many years in theatre in NYC and around the world. It was always his first love. Ron was appearing in Off-Broadway in Langford Wilson's play "The Hot L Baltimore" when he got his audition for Kotter. Recently, Ron's moving play, "The Lost Boy," was a brilliantly written work. It enjoyed a premiere at Nyack's Helen Hayes Theatre and then played at Queens Theatre In The Park. I probably saw it six times. Ron also staged a reading of it with Broadway's Anita Gillette, which I particularly enjoyed. We recently discussed about having me produce it in NY.
A lifetime of beautiful memories. When Ron and I last spoke, we laughed about our first meeting in 1982. I had no idea of who he was. I was in Europe dancing in ballet companies at the time Kotter was on the air. I walked into his bathroom and saw an award he had won with the Kotter cast. "Are you famous?" I asked. We still laughed about that. Ron believed in me more than anyone else in the world. I will carry that, with him in my heart forever.
Photo Courtesy - Lawrence Leritz, taken on his birthday at Joe Allens