Gay actor Ron Palillo, my childhood nemesis, is dead

Posted on 15 Aug 2012 at 9:17am

It was not easy growing up as an Arnold, and Ron Palillo was one reason why.

Palillo played Arnold Horshack on the ’70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, which for about two years was the not-miss comedy of my youth along with Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. Horshack was an endearing but annoying character, and having the same name as him as a 10-year-old was not easy, let me tell ya. I also shared the name with a pig on Green Acres and a sassy black kid on Diff’rent Strokes; hell, I even sorta shared a name with Ernie (Arnie, which most people called me) from Sesame Street. Interesting, all were savvy and likable characters if not respected ones. Indeed, Horshack, one of the two breakout characters to come from Kotter; the other was Vinnie Barbarino, played by a guy named John Travolta. He went on to be him; Palillo and the rest of the cast pretty much were relegated to Fantasy Island guest spots and Circus of the Stars.

Truth be told, I always had a huge crush on Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), who was much more my type (and still is) than Travolta; Hegyes died in January at 60.

And yesterday, Palillo died at 63 — young for both, to be sure. Palillo was gay, and is actually survived by his partner of 41 years … which means, he was with his partner for four years already when he starred on the show as a high school kid at age 26.

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