Marcia Strassman dies at 66; actress starred in ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’
Marcia Strassman, an actress who found fame on the 1970s hit TV sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” and later starred in the 1989 Disney family film “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” died Friday at her home in Sherman Oaks. She was 66 and had breast cancer, according to her sister, Julie Strassman.
On “Welcome Back, Kotter,” which aired on ABC from 1975 to 1979, she played wife Julie to the title character played by Gabe Kaplan, a teacher who returns to his old high school in Brooklyn. Kotter’s struggling, smart-aleck students, known as the Sweathogs, included John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino, Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein, Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington.
The show was a success, but Strassman, typically forthright in interviews, didn’t look back fondly on the job.
“I did not particularly enjoy ‘Kotter,’” she said in a 1991 interview with the Calgary Herald. “I spent much of the four years being frustrated. I didn’t have much to do on the show. I was just there when Kotter came home at the end of the day.”
Her next big part came in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” when she played the suburban wife and mom opposite Rick Moranis’ wacky scientist. She also appeared in the 1992 sequel, “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid,” as well as the short “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” which was featured in a Tomorrowland attraction at Disneyland.
Strassman was born April 28, 1948, in New York City and began acting as a teenager because, she often recounted in interviews, she considered it a good way to get out of school. She landed commercial jobs and stage roles, replacing Liza Minnelli in the off-Broadway musical “Best Foot Forward,” and at 18 came to Los Angeles to find TV work.
She first appeared on the TV series “MASH” and then won the part in “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
“Five women tested for it,” Strassman told the New York Times in 1982. “One of them was Farrah Fawcett. She was wonderful, like Judy Holliday. But they said, ‘We didn’t think anybody would believe her with Gabe Kaplan.’ I said: ‘You believe me with Gabe Kaplan? Thank you very much.’”
She continued working regularly in TV, movies and theater and spoke of her career in a matter-of-fact way.
“You know,” she told the Boston Herald in 1992, “I want to laugh when I watch some actor who’s not a big star on a TV talk show and they’re asked, ‘Why did you take this role?’ As if they need motivation! The bottom line is: Somebody offered them a job and they took it. An actor needs to work!”
Besides her sister, Strassman’s survivors include a daughter, Elizabeth, and a brother, Steven.
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