Jay Thomas, actor in 'Cheers,' 'Murphy Brown' and 'Ray Donovan,' dead at 69

Character actor and radio personality Jay Thomas, who became known to television viewers for his roles on “Cheers,” “Murphy Brown” and most recently on the crime drama “Ray Donovan,” has died at his home in Santa Barbara. He was 69.

Thomas’ death Thursday was confirmed by the actor’s New York publicist, Thomas Eastey. A cause was not specified, but Thomas had been battling cancer.

“Jay Thomas was one of the funniest and kindest men I have had the honor to call both client and friend for 25 years plus,” Eastey said in an email to The Times.

Thomas seemed to move easily from radio to television and back again. Before landing recurring roles on “Cheers” and “Murphy Brown”, he was the drive-time personality on Power 106 Radio in the L.A. market. And then, before landing the role of sleazy tabloid publisher Marty Grossman on “Ray Donovan,” he boomed out across America on a morning show on SiriusXM.

Born Jon Thomas Terrell in Kermit, Texas, on July 12, 1948, the future actor was raised largely in New Orleans, which he jokingly said helped him avoid the usual temptations and vices when he arrived in Hollywood.

“Pretty much got it all out of my system back home,” he said in a 2003 interview.

Thomas played Eddie LeBac, the former-hockey-player husband of barmaid Carla on “Cheers.” He re-appeared in prime time as tabloid TV-show host Jerry Gold on “Murphy Brown.” He won an Emmy for both roles.

Diane English, writer and creator of “Murphy Brown,” expressed her condolences.

“I would have loved to write another role for him. RIP Jay,” she tweeted.

He also starred in the sitcom “Love & War” as a sportswriter romancing a woman who owns his favorite sports bar.

His film roles include “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” in which he played a high school football coach, and the second and third “Santa Clause” films.

Thomas also became an annual December guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” when he and the host would take turns trying to knock a meatball off an oddly decorated Christmas tree with a football. He later told the Associated Press that the annual ritual was easily “the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Thomas’ first break in television nearly undid him.

Cast as an annoying deli owner in “Mork & Mindy,” Thomas was advised to stay close to Robin Williams when he read his lines so that he would be visible in the shot.

Nervous and still out of his league, Thomas said he practically stalked Williams during the shooting, to the point the show’s star grew annoyed.

The following day, the script called for Thomas to make his entrance through a stage door.

When he tried to open it, the door was locked.

Williams had seen to that.

“I got there thinking I was hot stuff,” Thomas told the Times-Picayune in 2014. “After a day or so, I wasn’t so hot anymore. He (Williams) was just moving at another speed.”

Thomas is survived by his wife, Sally, and three sons, Jacob, Samuel and J.T. Harding.

steve.marble@latimes.com

twitter.com/stephenmarble

 


UPDATES:

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and a quote from Diane English, the creator of “Murphy Brown.”

This article was originally published at 4 p.m .

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