PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla., Aug. 14 — Actor, director and instructor Ron Palillo, best known for his role as Arnold Horshack on the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” died early Tuesday at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He apparently suffered a heart attack said Karen Poindexter, a close friend. Palillo was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. The actor was 63.
Those familiar with the ABC sitcom will remember Horshack’s classic cry, “Oooh, oooh,” as he’d thrust his hand up to answer a question in class. The audience will also remember that rapscallion band known as the Sweathogs, which starred Ocala’s own John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino.
For those not so familiar, “Kotter” was a nostalgic comedy about a man who returns to his roots to teach the delinquent Sweathogs in Brooklyn. Palillo co-starred on the series from 1975 to 1979 as his famously nerdy and overzealous character. Though his role as Horshack only lasted for a handful of years, it colored his career afterward.
In 1994 he told the Birmingham News, “While I loved him, I really loved him, I didn’t want to do him forever.”
“Everybody thought of me as Arnold Horshack. I resented Horshack for so many years,” said Palillo in a 1997 newspaper interview according to the New York Times.
He went on to supporting roles on “The Love Boat” and “The A-Team” among many other projects. He played the lead role of Mozart in the 1991 off-off-Broadway production “Amadeus” and also appeared in “One Life to Live” for a season.
Palillo moved to Florida in 2010 to be close to his elderly mother and became a drama teacher at the G-Star School of the Arts, a charter high school in West Palm Beach, Fla.
He is survived by his partner of 41 years, retired actor Joseph Gramm, and two brothers. Palillo’s mother passed last year.