‘Cheers’ Star Nicholas Colasanto Wrote His Lines Around the Bar

by Sean Griffin

Cheers, the incredibly popular television show which ran from 1982-1993 on NBC, remains adored to this day. The Ted Danson-led cast had an infectious energy that carried the show for a decade. The show notched 275 episodes before its closure, and received critical and commercial acclaim. Cheers owns a record 117 Emmy nominations and earned 28 Emmys. The series finale was the most watched TV episode of the entire 1990s. The series finale was viewed by 93 million people, just about 40% of the country’s population at the time.

TV Guide ranked Cheers as the 18th best television show of all time. It also spawned one of the most successful spinoffs ever, the hit series Frasier. Recently, Outsider has covered how Cheers is credited with many inventive television techniques, such as inventing the “will-they, won’t they” romance plot line and popularizing serialized storytelling.

However, Cheers might be most remembered by fans for its relatable and endearing personalities. Whether it was George Wendt as quick-witted Norm Peterson, Ted Danson as former relief pitcher Sam Malone, Shelley Long as sweet graduate student Diane Chambers, or Nicholas Colasanto as crazy Coach Ernie Pantusso.

Fans remember Coach Ernie Pantusso for his zany antics and wise advice. However, his character met an unexplained end on the show when real-life actor Nicholas Colasanto tragically died of a heart attack in 1985. Yet, most agree that Colasanto was just as much a large personality as his character Coach Ernie.

Who Was ‘Cheers’ Nicholas Colasanto?

According to his biography on Wikipedia, Nicholas Colasanto was born January 19, 1924 in Providence, Rhode Island. While his time as Ernie Pantusso on Cheers earned him most of his fame, he lived an incredible life before the role. First, he was a coxswain in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war, instead of taking an accountant job for a Saudi Arabian company, he enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Upon graduation, he found success in television. Not only was he a viable actor, but he directed episodes of many famous television shows such as Starsky & Hutch, Bonanza, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, etc. He appeared in several acclaimed films, as well. He was in The Counterfeit Killer, Fat City, Family Plot, and most notably, Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Raging Bull. In 1980’s Raging Bull, Colasanto played a mob boss named Tommy Como. This was Colasanto’s last film role before his death in 1985.

Colasanto had a well-documented struggle with alcoholism, and many believe this contributed to his heart attack. Co-star Ted Danson later noted that Colasanto had trouble remembering his lines during production of the third season. This is in part why Colasanto would write his lines on the bar. However, MeTV.com writes an inspiring note on Colasanto’s practice of writing his lines on the bar.

They write, “For the episode ‘Coach Buries a Grudge,’ he wrote one of his lines—’it’s as if he’s still with us now’—on the wood to the right of the front door. After Colasanto’s death, actors would ritually slap the spot when entering the set, like football players entering a hallowed stadium.”

It’s refreshing to know that the closeness of the characters onscreen matched the closeness of the Cheers cast offscreen.