Sad – if sadly, not completely shocking – news arrives from Los Angeles today as it’s been announced that troubled Grease star Jeff Conaway has died after being taken off of life support following a drug overdose and coma.
A New York city native, Conaway got his start in acting at an early age, appearing on Broadway from the age of two, even though he also harboured dreams of becoming an astronaut. He worked through the decades on both the big and small screens as well as the stage.
But his personal life was a mix of drug problems and two broken marriages – one to Grease co-star Olivia Newton John’s sister Rona. While he hit a crisis in the 1980s and began to fight his addictions, he never quite won against his demons.
Conaway’s career was also hit by bad luck. True, he appeared in Grease, but he actually originated the role of Danny Zuko in the stage musical, and wasn’t considered famous enough to take it on for the film. And while he won the role of Kenickie, one of the character’s key songs, Greased Lightning, was transplanted to the Zuko character to give John Travolta more of a showcase.
His other most famous role was as Bobby Wheeler on classic US sitcom Taxi. But even then, his substance abuse issues eventually got in the way of his work, with producer (and future Simpsons co-producer) Sam Simon recalling him found in his dressing room unable to perform on the show, which resulted in his eventual dismissal.
More recently, Conaway lucked into another memorable part, that of security officer Zack Allan on sci-fi series Babylon 5. A visit to the set simply because he liked the show led to him scoring a small bit part which eventually expanded to him becoming a regular.
On May 11 this year, he was found unconscious and rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from pneumonia and sepsis. Though he was put in a medically-induced coma, he never regained consciousness and the decision was made to stop treatment. He was 60.