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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jeff Conaway 1950-2011

Veteran t.v., movie and Broadway actor, Jeff Conaway, died yesterday morning in California after being in a coma since May 11. Conaway struggled for years with drug abuse; he once told Howard Stern in an interview that he had attempted suicide twenty-one times.

Conaway made his film debut in 1971, and never stopped working over the years, despite his problems with substance abuse. He is, of course, most famous for his role as "Kenickie" in the movie,
"Grease", and as "Bobby Wheeler" on the hit sitcom "Taxi", 1978-82. Although Conaway played Kenickie in the movie version of Grease, he actually played the leading role of Danny Zuko in the one of the early Broadway casts of the show. While filming "Grease", Conaway met his co-star Olivia Newton-John's sister, Rona, at a party, and married her in 1980, their marriage lasting for five years. Some obituaries today are stating that Conaway and Newton-John had a son named Emerson, while other obits are stating that Conaway had no biological children, and that Emerson was Conaway's step-son. Emerson, oddly enough, is not a singer nor an actor, but a successful race-car driver.

Evidently, Conaway's substance abuse problems go way back. "Taxi" writer Sam Simon said in a 2008 interview that once, during the filming of the popular sitcom, Conaway was found in his dressing room, too high to perform. His dialogue in that particular episode had to be divided among the other cast members. And in addition to alcohol and other substances, Conaway was also addicted to painkillers, which he claimed to have started taking because of an injury he suffered to his back while filming the "Greased Lightening" musical number in the movie "Grease".

Conaway also appeared on "Celebrity Rehab" with Dr. Drew, and if that wasn't bad enough, even former "Grease" cast-mate, John Travolta, took Conaway to his Church of Scientology in an attempt to help Conaway overcome his drug problems. Wow. Now you know that Conaway's drug problem was serious; Dr. Drew's help would be enough to help most of us get clean, but you know that Conaway had one very serious, scary problem if going to the Scientology building with John Travolta wasn't enough to scare him straight. Jesus!

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