The ‘Cheers’ Guest Star Who Filled in When Larry Bird Bailed

The NBC comedy Cheers attracted some major guest stars. Alex Trebek, Johnny Carson and Ethel Kennedy all played themselves, while John Cleese and Harry Connick, Jr. were among guest stars playing characters. One episode was supposed to include Boston Celtic Larry Bird, but they had to settle for someone else instead. 

'Cheers': Woody and Carla talk behind the bar
Woody Harrelson and Rhea Perlman | NBCU Photo Bank

Cheers writer Ken Levine was discussing stunt casting on his podcast, Hollywood & Levine. Bird was one of the A-list guest stars they couldn’t land, but they got someone almost just as good. 

William J. Crowe replaced Larry Bird on ‘Cheers’

Who do you think of when you can’t get Larry Bird? Surely Admiral William J. Crowe. Who is William J. Crowe, you ask? 

“Talk about a coup,” Levine said on Hollywood & Levine. “We had admiral William J. Crowe who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m telling you. You know, on Friends they get Madonna and Julia Roberts. We get Admiral William J. Crowe.”

The original ‘Cheers’ script for Larry Bird 

Levine explained how the episode was initially supposed to feature Larry Bird as himself. It was the season 7 episode “Hot Rocks” written by Levine and David Isaacs

The premise is whoever this person is, originally Larry Bird comes to the bar as a friend of Sam’s. They go off to some big celebrity fancy fundraiser. Rebecca is invited. She rents these gorgeous diamond earrings and after the event, the diamond earrings disappear and she thinks that Larry Bird stole her earrings. We had told Larry Bird the story so he was not unaware of what we were asking him to do and how we were going to portray him. Then at the last minute, he just bailed on us.

Ken Levine, Hollywood & Levine, 9/9/2020

William J. Crowe was a good sport about playing the thief but refused 1 joke

“Hot Rocks” had to be revised to place Sam (Ted Danson) and Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) on the U.S.S. Constitution instead of the original setting. Levine still ended up happy with the episode. 

“So we’re looking to find somebody,” Levine said. “I don’t know how out of the blue Admiral William J Crow’s name came to the surface. We said yeah, okay, let’s do that. We had to rewrite the script certainly to accommodate that but it turned into a very funny episode and there were some great jokes.”

Levine and Isaacs were going to have some fun with Howe. Howe was actually in possession of the “nuclear football” during his appearance on the show, but that was no laughing matter to him.

“He too was a great sport except there was one joke that he wouldn’t do,” Levine said. “He’s sitting at the bar with Norm and Cliff and the guys say to him, ‘S you and just make a phone call and push a button and send nuclear warheads to Russia?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’ Norm puts down 50 bucks and goes, ‘50 bucks right now.’ He didn’t think that was particularly appropriate.”

Howe’s aid did let Levine look inside the box. Levine was disappointed.

“I was expecting this super high tech futuristic equipment,” Levine said. “This looked like old Radio Shack crap, like an old black phone just looked like I said something that you would buy at a garage sale. That was the famous black box.”