On Permanent Hiatus.
Nicholas Colasanto, who played Ernie "Coach" Pantusso on Cheers, died at his home in Los Angeles on February 12, 1985, of a heart attack. One of seven children, he grew up in Rhode Island and briefly attended Central High School in Providence before joining the Navy. Upon his discharge he returned to Rhode Island to finish his high school education, then went on to earn a degree from Bryant College. He worked his way through school doing construction work and upon graduation in 1949 he took a job as an accountant.
Then he happened to see Henry Fonda perform on Broadway. The experience caused him to completely alter his career plans.
Nicholas (or Nicky, as he was called on the set) went on to enjoy a long and distinguished career as an actor and director prior to landing his role on Cheers. Perhaps his most famous film role was as Mob boss Tommy Como in Raging Bull, but he also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot and directed over 100 episodes of television shows such as Columbo, Bonanza, and The Streets of San Francisco.
Colasanto played the befuddled but likable ex-baseball coach-turned-bartender on Cheers for only the first three seasons. Asked once why he was called Coach, he replied that he never flew first class.
The last Cheers episode in which he appeared was "Cheerio Cheers," which aired April 11, 1985. For the rest of the season after his death, scriptwriters sidestepped the issue of Coach's absence by having him "visiting relatives" or "getting his driver's license renewed."
Colasanto continued to have a presence, of a sort, on the set, right up through the very last episode of the show, which aired May 20, 1993. According to The Show Must Go On by Douglas Snauffer:
His Cheers family was determined to see that Colasanto would not be forgotten on the series. The actor had a little cubby hole in his dressing room where he'd displayed a photo of Geronimo, the famous black and white shot of the Apache leader down on one knee holding his rifle. When Colasanto died the cast went to his dressing room and removed the photo so it could become a permanent fixture on the Cheers bar set, hung on stage near the piano, "so it would always be there," says [Ted] Danson. "Later, when we were shooting the very last episode, after Sam walks back and says we're closed, our director James Burrows blocked it so on my way back out of the bar I stop and straighten the photo, so that Nicky was represented right to the end."
Incidentally, Cheers has at least one other Rhode Island connection: the character of Carla Maria Victoria Angelina Teresa Apollonia Lozupone Tortelli LeBec, played by Rhea Perlman, once admitted that she grew up in Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood.
When you visit Nicholas at Saint Anne's Cemetery in Cranston, mind you don't feed the geese. Even if you don't mean to, you will be encouraging them to commit disrespectful acts.
1917 - 1964
1924 - 1985
[Joseph was Nicholas's older brother].
Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful.
Time required: allow 5 minutes, more if you have to wait for the geese to move out of the way
Hours: open year round; Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 8am-5pm
Directions: from Route 95 take exit 16 to Route 10 north; from Route 10 take the next exit to Reservoir Avenue; turn right onto Reservoir and drive south to Park Avenue; turn right on Park and drive west to the intersection with Cranston Street; turn right on Cranston Street and proceed to a spot where the road bends to the right; enter Saint Ann's Cemetery through the gate on your left; turn right at Section V and the sign for "Chapels"; turn left at Section 22; turn right at Section 19; park at Section 31; from the Section 31 sign, Nicholas is located in the 6th row up, to the right of the second column of vertical memorials.
Honored by his Alma Mater
Bryant College's Class of 1985 chose to honor Nicholas Colasanto by dedicating a common room on the second floor of Bryant Center, dubbed "Nick's Place," to the famous alumnus. The room, which (when we visited in 2001) contained a television surrounded by heavy institutional couches and benches, was decorated with sports posters and pennants. It also housed a small shrine to the man himself, located on the wall to the right of the entrance.
Along with a dedication plaque and a photo of Nick in a Bryant sweatshirt, there were two framed artifacts—a Bryant College tie and an apron—both apparently once worn by Colasanto in his Coach role. The apron is signed by Cheers co-stars Kirsty Alley, John Ratzenberger, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson, and Roger Rees, and dedicated "In memory of our dear Nicky. We miss you pal."
Bryant College became a University in 2004, and likewise Nick's Place didn't stagnate, either. The Bryant Center was extensively renovated and rededicated as the Michael E. and Karen L. Fisher Student Center in 2013, and Nick's Place was renamed the Nicholas Colasanto '49 Lounge. The Nick's Place name lives on, though, in a cafe in the Student Center.
This is a working university campus. It's probably best to call ahead to make sure you'll be able to visit.
Time required: allow 20 minutes to find the Nicholas Colasanto '49 Lounge, read the plaques, and take some pix.
Directions: from Route 295 take exit 8 to Route 7 west (Douglas Pike); cross Route 116 and travel about one mile to the Bryant University main entrance on the left; the guard at the guard booth can direct you to the Fisher Student Center.