Friday, June 25, 2021


Nicholas Colasanto was born in Providence, Rhode Island on January 19, 1924.  He was the son of Italian immigrants and was of the first generation of his family to be born in America.

After high school, Colasanto enlisted in the United States Navy and served his country during World War 2.  He held the enlisted rank of Coxswain and was often decorated for his service, earning the World War 2 Victory Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button.

After the war, Colasanto returned to Rhode Island, where he enrolled at Bryant College.  Although he initially set his sights on a career in accounting, he opted to go the theatrical route while in school, and later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Colasanto began his acting career in the late 1950s, appearing on such series as Playhouse 90 and Car 54, Where Are You?.  He became a reliable character actor in the 60s and 70s, appearing on such series as Kojak and The Streets of San Francisco

During this period, Colasanto became a director as well, working on many high-profile series of the time, including BonanzaHawaii Five-O and Starsky and Hutch. It was also during this period that he was first diagnosed with heart disease, a problem further exacerbated by his two decades of alcoholism.  He joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1976, but the damage to his health and career was already set in stone.  His last major role was as mafia boss Tommy Como in 1980's Raging Bull.

After the film, Colasanto was all set to retire and focus on his health, but an odd thing happened.  He was offered a role on a new sit-com, one that would ultimately define his career.  In 1982, he was cast as Coach Ernie Pantusso on the NBC series Cheers.

The series was not an immediate hit, often finishing at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings.  But by the second season it had gained a respectable audience, due in no small part to Colasanto's dimwitted but likable character.

As the show entered its third season, Colasanto's health was in noticeable decline.  He had lost a lot of weight and according to co-star Ted Danson, he was having difficulty remembering his lines. 

Shortly after Christmas 1984, he was admitted to a local hospital with water in his lungs, where he'd stay well into the new year.  Upon his release, doctors advised him to hang up his apron and focus on his health.  By this point he had already unknowingly filmed his final full episode, but he returned to shoot one last cold opening that would air later that season.

On February 12, 1985, Colasanto suffered a heart attack and died in his Los Angeles home.  He was 61 years old.  A memorial service was conducted in North Hollywood, attended by the full cast and crew and more than 300 mourners.

Colasanto's body was returned to Rhode Island, where the funeral was held.  He was buried in a family plot with his brother Joseph in Saint Ann Cemetery, Cranston, Rhode Island.  According to this blogger, the grave does not see much traffic.

Location: Section #31, Lot #211, Grave #1

Rest in peace, Coach.


  • John Ratzenberger, who portrayed Cliff Clavin, was the only Cheers cast member to attend Colasanto's funeral.  As the third season was still in production at the time of his death, there was insufficient time for the rest of the cast to travel from California to Rhode Island and back.

  • Following his death, Bryant College dedicated a room to Colasanto in their Bryant Center facility.  Dubbed "Nick's Place," it serves as a shrine to Colasanto and of his years at Bryant.  The centerpiece is an apron worn by Colasanto on Cheers, signed by cast members Ted Danson, John Ratzenberger, George Wendt and Rhea Perlman.  It bears the inscription "In memory of our dear Nicky.  We miss you pal."

  • Colasanto kept a photo of Geronimo in his Cheers dressing room.  Following his death, it was hung in the bar as a tribute to his work on the series.  Eight years later, during the final scene of the series, Ted Danson is seen adjusting the photo.  You can watch that clip on YouTube.

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