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Coach was only part of the Cheers cast for three of its eleven years on air, but his presence made the early episodes special.

Played by the late Nicholas Colasanto, Coach was a retired baseball coach who was often oblivious to everything the younger crowd said. Unfortunately, the real-life death of Colasanto after season three changed the show forever, but a look at the actor’s legacy shows why he’s still beloved nearly 40 years after his death.

Colasanto’s windy road 

In a 1994 retrospective about his career nearly a decade after his death, Entertainment Weekly quoted Colasanto as he spoke about what got him into acting, to begin with. According to him, it was Henry Fonda’s performance in a Broadway production of Mister Roberts. From there, he knew what he wanted to do in life. He wanted to touch people the way that Fonda’s performance touched him. 

“At age 28, I chucked everything and [applied to] the American Academy of Dramatic Arts,” he said. After that initial rejection, however, Colasanto took it as an opportunity to hone his craft. 

However, when the roles were hard to come by, and Colasanto started feeling defeated, he turned to alcohol to ease the pain. Add that to the circle of similar actors, and it quickly turned into an all-out problem. 

“When you start to move in circles of working actors and directors, especially in New York City, you live a cafe life. When you’re done working, you repair to a bar. It’s such an insidious disease. You only feel good when you catch it,” he told UPI in 1983. “The deep vice of alcoholism seeks out the baser aspects of life. It doesn’t want decent company.”

Ironically, nearly two decades after his last drink, Colasanto finally got his big television break. After a notable appearance in Raging Bull and two decades of memorable performances that never took off, he was cast in a new sitcom

Colasanto leads a team

Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli, Nicholas Colasanto as Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso, Ted Danson as Sam Malone
Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli, Nicholas Colasanto as Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso, Ted Danson as Sam Malone | NBCU Photo Bank

According to Cheers’ fandom page, Coach Pantusso, called Coach by every character on Cheers, was one of Sam’s favorite mentors from his baseball days. However, with Sam out of a job and Coach looking for something to do, he helped the retired baseballer open his dream New England bar.

With elderly advice and naivety that Colasanto often played the character for laughs, Coach helped audiences know what was going on because characters had to explain everything to him.

While Coach may have taken too many baseballs to the heads to think straight, but Colasanto’s years as an actor combined with his demons made the character a lovable, believable staple of the wildly successful sitcom. Unfortunately, his time was cut short when Colasanto passed away after the third season of the show.

‘Cheers’: How did Nicholas Colasanto die?

According to the New York Times, Colasanto passed away at his home in 1985. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Colasanto was at his home when he suffered a fatal heart attack. At the time, Cheers had been on the air for three years, and Coach was one of the most beloved characters.

While the show went on without him, the actors and the characters they played continued to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. Coach was killed off on the show and replaced with Woody Harrelson’s Woody Boyd.

Colasanto’s career was filled with many ups and downs, but it shows someone who did not give up on his dreams at the end of the day. While it led him down a dark path, it also inspired him to keep on going despite a late start and a thousand other pitfalls along the way. Thirty-six years after his death, his legacy remains strong to this day. 

Cheers is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, and for those three years that Colasanto went to work, he inspired a future generation of heavy-hitters like Ted Danson. Colasanto’s end was tragic, but the journey there can be an inspiration for anyone who wants to give up on their hopes and dreams.