‘Cheers’: How Did ‘Coach’ Actor Nicholas Colasanto Die?

by Joe Rutland
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“Cheers” always provided a friendly bar, especially with Nicholas Colasanto playing “Coach.” He died after three seasons. But how did he die?

Colasanto died on Feb. 25, 1985, from a heart attack. The “Cheers” actor was 61 years old. According to an article from The New York Times, Colasanto appeared in numerous television shows and movies.

His final movie appearance was in the Robert DeNiro film “Raging Bull” in 1980. The movie was based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta.

Colasanto developed heart disease in the mid-1970s and was about to retire after “Raging Bull.” That’s according to the 2008 book, “The Show Must Go On: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series” by Douglas Snauffer.

‘Cheers’ Actor Accepts Role On NBC Sitcom Even Though He Preferred Directing

He was approached with the role of Coach Ernie Pantusso on the NBC sitcom. Colasanto accepted the part and would be a kind of foil for Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on “Cheers.”

A lot of Colasanto’s career had been spent as a director. “But I much prefer directing to acting,” he said in a 1984 interview with The Associated Press. “It’s a lot more active. It’s tedious when you’re waiting around as an actor. Directing is more physically active and less emotionally demanding.”

His heart disease was problematic due to his alcoholism, which Colasanto addressed in the AP interview. He said that he got sober on March 31, 1976, and remained so until his death.

The death of Nicholas Colasanto left a void in the “Cheers” cast. Woody Harrelson would eventually join it as Woody Boyd, playing that role until the show ended its run on NBC.

Woody Harrelson Had Other Dreams In Mind Than Role On NBC Sitcom

Speaking of Harrelson, he actually wasn’t looking for a role on “Cheers.” His dream was to play on Broadway and Harrelson was headed back to New York from Los Angeles.

That was until a friend of his spoke up about an audition. Harrelson talks about going through it in a 2012 interview on “The Howard Stern Show.”

At the time, Harrelson said he was an understudy for Neil Simon’s play “Biloxi Blues.” He told Stern that he’d received a furlough to go film the movie “Wildcats.” Harrelson was finishing that movie in Los Angeles, then heading back to New York.

He told Stern that Leo Geter, a friend of his, told him about the audition for “Cheers.”

“I went, ‘Dude, I’m going back to do Broadway because the guy I was understudying had been fired’ so I was gonna go do my dream which was Broadway,” Harrelson said.

Well, so much for those dreams. Harrelson ended up being on a hit TV sitcom, then a major movie star.

Outsider.com