Nicholas Colasanto was an American actor and TV director, best remembered for portraying "Coach" Ernie Pantusso in the American sitcom ‘Cheers.’ He served the United States Navy as a coxswain and was a decorated veteran of the Second World War. Initially, Colasanto worked as an accountant, but after watching Henry Fonda perform on Broadway, he took a liking for acting and directing. He directed over 100 episodes of several television series. These include series like ‘CHiPs,’ ‘Run for Your Life,’ ‘Bonanza,’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O.’ His acting pursuits include films such as ‘Family Plot,’ ‘Fat City,’ and ‘The Counterfeit Killer.’ He got his most memorable role of "Coach" Ernie Pantusso at a much later stage of his career. The performance earned him huge popularity and also Emmy nomination for three years that he featured in the series. His last major feature was in the Robert De Niro starrer blockbuster hit biographical sports-drama film ‘Raging Bull.’ An alcoholic of over two decades, Colasanto later became an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and succeeded in achieving sobriety.
Childhood & Early Life
Nicholas Colasanto was born on January 19, 1924, in Providence, Rhode Island, US, as one of the seven children of his parents. Colasanto was of Italian descent.
He studied at Providence's Central High School and joined the United States Navy during the Second World War, before completing his graduation. He served as a coxswain and following the war, Colasanto returned to Rhode Island and completed his high school education. He then attended Bryant University and completed his graduation in 1949. He also did construction jobs to earn money for tuition living.
He started working as an accountant for an oil company and was supposed to work in such capacity in a company in Saudi Arabia. He, however, developed interest in acting and started attending ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts.’
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Colasanto was so impressed by a Henry Fonda Broadway performance that he resolved to pursue acting. He joined a theatre company in Phoenix, Arizona, and later returned to New York and performed in off-Broadway productions. He also featured in television commercials.
In 1965, he moved to Hollywood and started appearing on television. He also began working as a director for television projects. Between 1965 and 1968, he directed several episodes of the American television drama series ‘Run for Your Life.’
Over the years, he directed episodes of several television series. Some notable ones include ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1967), ‘Ironside’ (1968), ‘Hawaii Five-O’ (1969-70), ‘Bonanza’ (1972), and ‘Columbo’ (1972, 1974).
Colasanto also performed in some big-screen flicks. Two of his most remarkable roles came in the neo-noir boxing tragedy film ‘Fat City’ (1972) and the biographical sports drama film ‘Raging Bull’ (1980). He portrayed boxing manager Ruben in the former and mob boss Tommy Como in the latter.
Some other films that featured him include ‘The Counterfeit Killer’ (1968), ‘The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery’ (1975), and ‘Family Plot’ (1976).
The character of Coach Ernie Pantusso from the sitcom ‘Cheers,’ which became the most memorable role of the actor, was offered to him when he was at the verge of retirement. He appeared as the absent-minded and not so "worldly wise" yet lovable bartender and former baseball player and coach from the first episode of ‘Cheers,’ ‘Give Me a Ring Sometime.’
Colasanto appeared as Coach in the cold opening of the third-season finale episode, ‘Rescue Me,’ while ‘Cheerio, Cheers’ was his last full episode. It was filmed in late November 1984.
He bagged three Emmy nominations as ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series’ in each of the 3 seasons he featured as Coach. After Colasanto died in 1985, Coach was also written out in the show’s script as dead.
Colasanto, as a good luck charm, hung a picture of the Apache warrior ‘Geronimo’ on the wall of his dressing room. Following his death, commemorating the actor, the picture was hung on the wall in the bar that was part of the production set of ‘Cheers.’ Eight years after Colasanto’s death, during the final episode of ‘Cheers,’ series star Ted Danson, playing bar owner Sam Malone, was seen walking over to the picture and straightening it.
Colasanto posthumously received the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ award from ‘Viewers for Quality Television’ on April 19, 1985.
Family & Personal Life
In 1972, he got Colasanto married to Charlene D. Jennings.
He was diagnosed with heart disease in the mid-1970s which eventually affected his otherwise thriving showbiz career. He remained an alcoholic for over two decades which in turn exacerbated his heart disease. Later on March 31, 1976, he became an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and achieved sobriety the same year.
He succumbed to a heart attack on February 12, 1985, at his home. His funeral took place on February 16, 1985, which was attended by over three hundred people, including John Ratzenberger, who represented the cast of ‘Cheers.’ A memorial for Colasanto was held by cast and crew of ‘Cheers’ on its Los Angeles set. He was interred in Saint Ann's Cemetery in Cranston, Rhode Island.