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‘Taxi,’ ‘Grease’ star Jeff Conaway dies at 60
“I thought, `If I stay in this business, I’ll be dead in a year.’ There were drugs all over the place and people were doing them. I had started to do them. I realized that I’d die,” Conaway told the AP.
His effort to avoid addiction failed, and his battles with cocaine and other substances were painfully shared in two stints on “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.” Conaway, who’d had repeated back surgeries for an injury, blamed his cocaine use and pain pill abuse in part on his lingering back problem.
Conaway was born in New York City on Oct. 5, 1950, to parents who were in show business. His father was an actor, producer and agent, and his mother was an actress.
He made his Broadway debut in 1960 at the age of 10 in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “All the Way Home.” By then his parents were divorced, and Conaway had spent a great deal of time with his grandparents who lived in the Astoria section of Queens.
“I used to hold in a lot of feelings. I’d smile a lot but I was really miserable. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve figured it out since. When I was on stage, I could make people laugh,” he said in 1985.
He toured in the national company of the comedy “Critic’s Choice,” then attended a professional high school for young actors, musicians and singers. After abandoning music he returned to acting with a two-year stint in “Grease,” on Broadway (playing the lead role of Danny Zuko at one point) and eventually with the touring company.
The musical about high school love brought Conaway to Los Angeles and television, including a small part on “Happy Days” that led to larger roles. He had roles in small films and then in the movie version of “Grease” (1978), although he lost the top-billed part to John Travolta.
In 1978, he won the “Taxi” job _ playing vain, struggling actor Bobby Wheeler _ that put him in the company of Judd Hirsch, Danny de Vito and Andy Kaufman in what proved to be a hit for ABC.
The tall, gangly actor, with a shock of blond hair and what the late longtime AP drama critic Michael Kuchwara called a “wide-angle smile” and “a television face, just right for popular consumption,” appeared a success.
But Conaway, who received two Golden Globe nominations for “Taxi,” said he tired early of being a series regular, although he stayed with the series for three years, until 1981 (“Taxi” ended in 1983 after moving to NBC the year before).
“I got very depressed. Hollywood can be a terrible place when you’re depressed. The pits. I decided I had to change my life and do different things,” he said.
His movie career failed to ignite, however, and Conaway shifted back to TV with the short-lived 1983 fantasy series “Wizards and Warriors” and the 1985 flop “Berrengers,” a drama set in a New York department store. He made a bid to return to Broadway in “The News,” but the rock musical about tabloid journalism closed within days.
A 1994-98 stint in the sci-fi TV series “Babylon 5” as security chief Zack Allan proved successful, but it was followed by only scattered roles on stage, in films and TV shows. He was in the reality series “Celebrity Fit Club” in 2006 and then in “Celebrity Rehab,” in which the frail Conaway used a wheelchair and blacked out on camera.
A fall in 2010 caused a broken hip and other injuries that left him in more precarious health.
Conaway told the Los Angeles Times in a January 2011 article that series producers asked him to “give them drama.” But he also said he welcomed the support he received from those who viewed his struggle.
Why such hatred toward America's freedom of religion?
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