PASSINGS: Ron Palillo, Al Freeman Jr., James M. Naughton

‘Welcome Back, Kotter’
Cast of “Welcome Back Kotter.” From left seated: John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino, Gabriel Kaplan as Gebriel Kotter, and Lawrence Jacobs as “Boom Boom” Washington. In back are Ron Palillo as Horshack, left, and Robert Hegyes as Juan Luis Padro Epstein.

Ron Palillo

Actor played Arnold Horshack on ‘Kotter’

Ron Palillo, 63, an actor whose signature role was Arnold Horshack in the 1970s TV sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died Tuesday of a heart attack in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said his agent, Jackie Stander.

Along with John Travolta’s Vinnie Barbarino, Robert Hegyes’ Juan Epstein and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’ Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Palillo’s Horshack was one of the original Sweathogs in the James Buchanan High School class taught by Gabe Kaplan’s Mr. Kotter.


Horshack was the nasally teen who yelped “Oooh, ooh” and shot his hand skyward whenever Kotter posed a question.

The show ran on ABC from 1975 to 1979. After it ended, Palillo’s career stalled.

He said he felt exiled throughout the 1980s, unable to find parts, sinking into depression and rarely venturing from his apartment. When offers did come, he felt typecast as Horshack.

“While I loved him, I really loved him, I didn’t want to do him forever,” he said in a 1994 interview with the Birmingham (Ala.) News.


He was born Ronald Paolillo on April 2, 1949, in Cheshire, Conn., and eventually dropped the first “o” from his surname. His father died of lung cancer when he was 10 and he developed a stutter. His mother thought getting him involved in a local theater might help. He fell in love with the stage and overcame his speech impediment.

He attended the University of Connecticut and earned parts in Shakespearean productions before his big break.

Palillo had bit parts in shows including “The Love Boat,” “Cagney and Lacey” and"The A-Team"and played himself for a time on the series “Ellen.” But “Kotter” remained his most well-known acting part, and he focused on stage directing and writing.

More recently Palillo taught acting at a high school in West Palm Beach and was due to return for the upcoming school year.

Al Freeman Jr.

Emmy-nominated actor

Al Freeman Jr., 78, a veteran actor who received an Emmy nomination for his role as Malcolm X in the 1979 miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations” and later portrayed Elijah Muhammad in Spike Lee’s epic film “Malcolm X,” died Thursday in Washington, D.C., according to Howard University spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton. The cause has not been determined.

Freeman had taught acting for many years at Howard and also served as chairman and artistic director of its theater arts department.


He earned an NAACP Image Award for playing Malcolm X’s mentor in Lee’s 1992 biography.

“There were several people in the room, myself included, who had either seen Elijah Muhammad in person or on news film,” Paul Lee, a Malcolm X scholar, told Ebony magazine in 1993 while describing rehearsals for the film. “As soon as Al went into his act, there were audible gasps from people who found it difficult to believe that he had nailed such an unusual personality.”

Freeman also played Capt. Ed Hall on the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live” for 17 years, winning a Daytime Emmy for best actor in 1979.

Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr. was born March 21, 1934, in San Antonio, where he lived with his mother after she and his father, a jazz pianist, divorced. He served in the Air Force and attended Los Angeles City College before heading to New York for theater roles.

He made his Broadway debut in 1960 in the short-lived “The Long Dream,” based on Richard Wright’s novel. He also appeared in “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,” James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie” and the 1970 musical “Look to the Lilies” on Broadway, as well as New York productions of “The Slave” and “Dutchman,” both by LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka).

His film credits, mainly in the 1960s, include “Black Like Me,” “Dutchman,” “The Detective” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”

James M. Naughton

Journalist covered Watergate for New York Times


James M. Naughton, 73, a former White House and national correspondent for the New York Times and executive editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, died of cancer Sunday at his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., according to his wife, Diana Naughton.

James M. Naughton: A brief news obituary of former journalist James M. Naughton in the Aug. 15 LATExtra section misstated when he died. He died Aug. 11, not Aug. 12.

Naughton covered the Nixon administration and the Watergate hearings as Washington correspondent for the New York Times from 1969 to 1977. He then spent almost 20 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, serving as metro editor, deputy managing editor, managing editor and executive editor. By 1996 when he stepped down, he had overseen work that won the Inquirer a dozen Pulitzer Prizes.

After leaving Philadelphia, he served seven years as president of the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, retiring in 2003.

Called “the mainstream media’s merriest prankster” by Vanity Fair, Naughton once wore a chicken costume to enliven a presidential news conference because he was tired of hearing then-President Ford’s stock campaign speech. “In the next news cycle, the chicken head was a bigger story than the president,” former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw told the Tampa Bay Times in 2007.

Born in Pittsburgh on Aug. 13, 1938, Naughton was a high school student in Ohio when he began working for a local newspaper. He studied journalism at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1960.

After a stint with the Marines, he joined the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covering politics and urban issues from 1962 to 1969 before moving to the New York Times.

“I love being in the company of people who care about the written word, the oral word,” Naughton said when he retired from Poynter, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “I love the dark humor and a mix of skepticism and a self-effacing understanding of the role.”

— Times staff and wire reports

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