Emmy Award-Winning Actor James Coco, 56, Dies of Heart Attack

Associated Press

James Coco, the versatile, Emmy award-winning actor, died in a hospital here late Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 56.

Coco was rushed by ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital at 8:30 p.m., spokesman Paul Simonetti said, but efforts to revive him were not successful and Coco died at 11:10 p.m., he said.

Simonetti said he did not know where Coco was when he suffered the coronary, but added that some family members and friends apparently accompanied the actor to the hospital.


Coco won the Emmy in 1983 for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his appearance in an episode on NBC-TV’s “St. Elsewhere.” He also was the recipient of two Obie awards for off-Broadway appearances.

Coco’s Broadway appearances included “Man of La Mancha,” “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and “You Can’t Take it With You.” His film credits included “Murder By Death,” “The Cheap Detective,” “Man of La Mancha” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan” in 1984.

His became a star as a result of 1969’s “Red Hot Lovers.” The year before, he was best known as Willie, the chubby plumber on Drano commercials.

“When I was around 8, my mother began taking me to the movies and I got hooked by Hollywood and the glamour of the stars,” he told an interviewer at the time. “I begged to see everything. The Andy Hardy movies. All of Garland. Priscilla Lane, Bette Davis and Paul Muni were my idols.

“In a sense, I was formed by the movies. I got most of my ideas and fantasies from them and I think I must have started imagining what it could like to be an actor when I was sitting in the darkness of some Loew’s movie palace.”

Born in the Bronx on March 21, 1930, Coco, the son of a shoemaker, led an unglamorous life before hitting the big time, working as a toy salesman, night clerk, waiter and dishwasher.

He became a stage manager of a touring children’s theater while still in his teens, and appeared in his first role as Old King Cole. He went on to become a character actor in summer stock and off-Broadway before appearing on Broadway in “Man of La Mancha” and “Red Hot Lovers.”

His other films include “A New Leaf,” “The Strawberry Statement,” “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” “Such Good Friends” and “The Wild Party.”

Coco also made numerous guest appearances on various television series. Among them were the “Marcus Welby, M.D.” show and “The Flip Wilson Show.” He was also a regular guest on the “Tonight Show,” starring Johnny Carson.

His last appearance was a guest role Tuesday night on ABC-TV’s “Who’s the Boss.”

Coco also made the interview-show circuit to promote his book, “The James Coco Diet.” Though a lover of food, the once-portly actor wrote the book in 1984 after losing considerable weight on the advice of doctors.

There was no immediate identification of Coco’s survivors. Funeral arrangements were pending.