Ron Palillo is an actor best known for his role as "Horshack" on the hit 1970s sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter.
Palillo was born on April 2, 1949, in Cheshire, Connecticut. Palillo was interested in acting from an early age. At the tender age of 14, he started his own summer theater in his hometown. Surprisingly, his summer theatre actually made money.
After high school, Palillo attended the University of Connecticut, majoring in drama. Palillo pursued his dream of acting while at Connecticut, appearing in many school plays. After graduation, Palillo took a job with a touring company which performed William Shakespeare's plays. Palillo later moved to New York and acquired a role in the successful off-Broadway play, Hot l Baltimore, with which he stayed for over a year. Palillo's stage success led to his breakthrough role as Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter.
Welcome Back, Kotter was a hit sitcom that originally aired between 1975 and 1979. It is the sitcom that launched John Travolta's career into stardom. Welcome Back, Kotter was a sitcom about a wise-cracking teacher, Gabe Kotter (played by Gabe Kaplan), who returned to high high school alma mater (the fictional James Buchanan High in Brooklyn, New York) to teach a rowdy group of remedial wiseass students known as the "Sweathogs." According to the storyline, Kotter had attended the same remedial classes when he was a student at Buchanan and was a founding member of the Sweathogs. Believing that he was the last chance for the students to acquire a sufficient education to succeed beyond high school, Kotter befriended his students. Kotter even allowed the students to visit his apartment in Bensonhurst. Although inviting innocent young boys into his home would likely be frowned upon in today's society, Mr. Kotter surprisingly didn't attempt to molest any of the boys.
Palillo's Horshack character was the "Screech Powers" of 1970s sitcoms. Horshack was the class clown of the Sweathogs and was known for his odd and unique observations and his wheezing laugh, which was akin to that of a hyena.
Horshack was a popular character on Welcome Back, Kotter, although certainly not as popular as Travolta's Vinne Barbarino character. Despite his success on the show, Palillo struggled to find acting work after the cancellation of Welcome Back, Kotter in 1979. Palillo managed to acquire some non-recurring minor roles on shows such as The Love Boat, The A-Team, and CHiPs. Acting roles were so sparse that Palillo got a nose job in an effort to distance himself from his Horshack character.
However, Palillo's career never recovered. Palillo returned to the University of Connecticut to teach an acting class in the late 1990s. Palillo eventually decided to accept any TV roles offered to him, regardless of how sleazy they might be. In 2002 Palillo was so desperate to make a dollar that he actually agreed to fight fellow washed-up celebrity Dustin "Screech" Diamond in Fox's Celebrity Boxing.
Fox billed the boxing bout between Diamond and Palillo as a match to "dork it up" in the ring. Although much smaller than Diamond, Palillo decided to go through with the match, apparently thinking that some media exposure would help his career. However, Palillo was in for a rude awakening when he stepped in the ring with Diamond. Palillo started the match by pushing Diamond and trying to punch Diamond in the head. However, Diamond eventually started unloading on Palillo and quickly began beating the crap out of Palillo, eventually giving Palillo a puffy black eye and causing the boxing referee to call the match in favor of Diamond.
Palillo was not a happy camper after the match. Diamond claimed that Palillo asked the producers of Celebrity Boxing to talk to him before the match and asked him to go easy on Palillo because Palillo had just gotten nose and chin jobs. However, Diamond was infuriated when Palillo tried to punch him in the head and decided to get even by whaling on Palillo. Palillo was very upset with the beating he received; after the match Palillo said to Diamond, "Don't even talk to me. Just get away from me. I never want to see you again." Diamond has also claimed that Palillo's gay lover told Diamond that Karma was going to get him.
After his bout on Celebrity Boxing, Palillo was very embarrassed because many people were poking fun at him for losing badly to Diamond. However, Palillo now claims that he never received a black eye, despite the swelling around his eyes that is clearly visible in the pictures shown above. Palillo claims that the referee called the match because Diamond had knocked a contact lens out of Palillo's eye. Palillo also asserts that he gave Diamond a vicious beating during the bout and that Diamond thought that Palillo had broken one of his ribs in the one-sided match!
Ron Palillo's acting career quickly peaked with his memorable role on the hit 1970s sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter. However, after the cancellation of the show, Palillo's career swirled down the toilet and has yet to recover. Palillo is currently so hard up for cash that he will speak to anyone on the phone for $20! As a result of his stalled acting career and his desperate attempt to revive his career by appearing on Celebrity Boxing and receiving the pummeling of a lifetime at the hands of uber-nerd, Dustin Diamond, there can be no doubt that Ron Palillo is one washed-up celebrity!
*** Update - August 14, 2012 ***
Ron Palillo died of an apparent heart attack this morning. He was 63 years old.