Jeff Conaway, star of 'Taxi' and 'Grease,' dies


Image Credit: Everett Collection

Jeff Conaway, whose career on screens both big and small spanned from playing the wisecracking rebel Kenickie in the iconic 1978 movie musical Grease to sharing his heartbreaking descent into addiction on two seasons of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, died Friday at the age of 60, his manager tweeted. He passed away from complications from pneumonia.

Born in New York City, Conaway shot to fame in the ’70s as a quintessential cocky guy: first in the internationally successful Grease and then on the TV hit Taxi, on which he played a similarly brash struggling actor named Bobby Wheeler from 1978 to 1981 (he left the show for its last two seasons).  In 1980, he married Grease co-star Olivia Newton-John’s sister, Rona, and had a son named Emerson, though the couple divorced five years later.

After Taxi, his career never quite recovered. He snagged roles on The Bold and the Beautiful in 1989 and Babylon 5 in the ’90s, but his most disturbingly memorable appearance came when he appeared on Celebrity Rehab as one of Dr. Drew Pinsky’s most difficult cases. After a long struggle with addiction, he first appeared on the show’s 2008 season to fight a dependency on alcohol, cocaine, and painkillers. His mumbling, drunk arrival at the Pasadena Recovery Center in a wheelchair, as well as his airing of suicidal thoughts, caused alarm even in the most jaded viewers.

The actor had said in more recent public appearances that he was doing better, but on May 19, he was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital after being found unconscious in his Encino, Calif., home. He remained in a coma for two weeks.

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  • Carlos

    I use to enjoy watching ‘Taxi’. Jeff Conaway’s character Bobby was stuck on himself. I had a big crush on Tony Daza. Hopefully Jeff is gone on to glory and no longer have to suffer on this earth.

    • Lady Gaga’s mother

      But what does Lady Gaga think about all of this? That’s what EW REALLY wants to report.

      • Esox

        That’s not true. They’re more concerned on how the cast of Lost is dealing with this.

      • miss k

        @LG’s mother and Esox: Totally and completely inappropriate. Show a little respect.

      • Shane

        No its all about Castle and that pathetically misguided viewership.

        Joking aside, its always sad when someone cannot quite make the journey away from the addictions that end up killing them.

      • Esox

        Sorry didn’t mean to offend. I have all the respect in the world for the cast of Lost, and should have thought before posting. I mean first Evangeline Lily gets her first post-Lost hangnail, and now this???

      • pie thrower

        Will the movie Breaking Dawn go on as planned?

      • Esox

        Yes Jeff Conaway has passed and …VAMPIRES!!!VAMPIRES!!! more and more VAMPIRES!!! (werewolves too!) Who’s the sexiest? Where do they shop? and how they keep that pale complexion at the beach!

      • derek

        It’s all of you mentioning other shows and actors in this story, not EW. Shame on all of you, a man has died, can’t you turn off the snark machine for at least this one news item?

      • Salty Chocolate Balls

        I thought this loser was ALREADY dead. Meh.

      • jul

        Way to monitor comments, EW. *sarcastic clap*

      • jared

        Really. All the hand-wringing off this dirtbag.

      • Lady Gaga’s mother

        Esox—you get me. You really get me.

      • Esox

        I hear next week EW is going to have a list of Jeff Conaway’s 25 most adored characters and/or reality stints.

      • Kim Kardashian

        I just wanted to thank all of you for your kind thoughts and prayers and well-wishes as I, Khloe and Kourtney cope with the tragedy of Jeff’s untimely passing. Please respect our privacy as we mourn—oh, who the hell am I kidding? Jeff WHO? Have you guys seen my RING? Isn’t it GORGEOUS? Like, THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM, right?

      • Dr. Drew

        I told you so.

      • Innocent Question

        Are there painkillers in Heaven?

      • Esox

        I’m sorry. I overstepped. But the real question is…why isn’t every God-fearing American watching Community? I mean it’s like the funniest show since…since…since…the last show we said was the funniest show ever. Should we but Rashida Jones in the Bullseye again to get your attention? C’mon!

      • Esox

        In our errors section we’d like to report the following: Rashida Jones is actually on Parks and Recrecreation, not Community. Parks and Recreation is another funny show that your NOT WATCHING. Possibly the funniest show since Community.

      • The question now is…

        …who is next? Amy Winehouse? Lilo? Charlie? (Please God, let it be Charlie).

      • gag

        what I really want to know is how gay people feel about this. And democrats.

      • Esox

        Gag ruined it. Fun’s over.

      • Yup.

        Bye Jeff. Seriously dude, RIP.

      • Stevex

        America’s first post-Oprah tragedy. How will the nation cope without Mom to guide us?

      • Esox’s clone

        Stevex, it’s WAAAAAY too soon to joke about Oprah. Have a heart dude.

      • Esox’s wang

        Esox, why won’t you spend less time on the website of a magazine you clearly hate, and more time focusing your rage on me. I like that.

      • pickle t1ts

        FINALLY!… That poor junkie basterd is out of his misery… Don’t do drugs kids!

      • Kim Kardashian

        I know, I thought exactly the same thing.

      • joe

        who the @$%^ is lady gaga

      • Esox

        I actually love EW. But it’s obsessions are hilarious.

    • Spike

      You’ve all overlooked how the cast of Glee is handling this. Chris Colfer is in TEARS as we speak!

      • Shane

        Nooo..I beg to differ….I still think we are all waiting with baited breath to find out if Castle really loves Beckett…AND how he is coping today….

      • Shane

        @Esox…no it wouldn’t be Evangeline…no one cares about her, it has to be about Elizabeth Mitchell! Poor Elizabeth!!!! Can she do her hair??! Can she cope??!!
        Can she please find someone to give her acting lessons…..

      • Squishmar

        Will Harry Potter still be released on time?

    • James Freud

      Pneumonia LOL

      • Ann


    • Bluto

      Dean Wormer…Dead! Neidermeyar…Dead! Conaway…Dead!

    • kim

      my heart goes out to the family you will always have him in your heart

    • Ladyj

      He was great in Grease and Taxi. It is sad how his life ended up with such sadness suffering wit the demons. Heart goes out to his family and friends. Try to ignore the juviniel comments that will follow as all the CHILDREN out there are in school and being taught respect and manners

  • Sam

    That’s just so sad. RIP Jeff.

    • Lily

      x 2

    • jared

      See you in hell, Jeff.

      • Dgently

        I think you’ll get there first, Jared.

      • Luke

        No doubt you’ll end up there, jared.

      • ifellwithicarus

        What have YOU done to make the world a better place? Are you great at your job( if you work)? If not, then maybe you’re a loser. Let’s hope that no one mourns you when you die. Karma’s a b#t*h! Compassion doesn’t cost anything………..

    • cattyfan

      It was a sad end to a tragic life. I hope he has finally found some peace.

      As for all those who feel the need to be nasty…I hope you never have to see a friend or relative die after that kind of struggle. Yes, he made bad choices…that doesn’t mean his family is grieving less for their loss.

      • Mara

        Cattyfan thank you that was the first sign of intellegence I have seen within this list of horrible notes about a man who died and had a truly unbearable life. RIP Jeff, I am glad you are finally going to get some peace.

  • Avie

    Sad news.

  • Ash

    Rest in peace, Jeff.

    • Dedi

      I lately arirved throughout your post and are currently analyzing along. I need to talk my appreciation of your creating ability and capability to help to make target audience research through the use of the commencing to the end. I must study more recent articles and also to write about my ideas along with you.

  • Steve

    Really sad story. RIP.

  • ben

    Other sites say it wasn’t a drug overdose…but pneumonia. I’m sure it’s all related but hoping Jeff is at peace now.

    • L

      Yahoo! is reporting that was ill with pneumonia already when he OD’d.

      • titaniumtestes

        USA Today reported it was syphilis.

  • Marsha

    Very sad but the suffering is over. RIP Jeff, hope you found your peace.

  • Aaron

    While, this news doesn’t really come as a surprise (considering what he’s done to himself over the years), it’s nonetheless tragic and heartbreaking. My deepest condolences to Jeff’s family and friends…RIP.

    • tv fan

      I agree with you. I liked Jeff the best in both Taxi and Grease. I know he did a lot of other things, but those were my favorite roles by him. RIP.

    • El. B

      Addiction is such a vicious disease. This was a slow, painful death many years in the making. I’m sure Mr. Conaway’s family has been through hell. I offer my condolences for their loss.

      • JJ

        Very true. I lost a cousin to addiction — and it was a long, nasty death that devastated the entire family. It’s easy for people to snidely pass judgement. Having watched it happen, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. RIP, Jeff, and strength and peace to his friends and family.

    • D

      It’s hard knowing his family must be suffering, but I like to think that Jeff Conaway is finally at peace

    • Mellissa

      I agree. I had a feeling when he was first admitted to the hospital that this would be the outcome, but my heart still sank when I read the news.

  • Meier

    Such a tragic end to such an underrated and agile performer. RIP, Jeff Conaway. No more pain.

  • Rizzo

    “A hickey from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card!”

    • Squishmar

      “To you from me, Pinky Lee!”

      I know the whole “Grease” movie by heart. This is a sad loss.

  • dman

    just read a more detailed report… the dude really had a lot of bad luck. i’d be on painkillers too. was getting over a nasty fall last year. broken him. hurt himself years ago which got him hooked on drugs in the first place. some people just have an addiction problem. sad.

  • hi-cee

    It was sad to see him struggle with his addiction on Celeb Rehab. My memories will always be of the fun work he did on Taxi, Grease, and a number of other roles. RIP….

  • akc247

    They corrected the drug overdose story over a week ago. Pneumonia is what he had.

    • Gilda

      You know how these media types sensationalize a story to draw in readers.

      It’s a shame they can’t tell the truth when the facts are finally revealed.

    • titaniumtestes

      I am pretty sure it was syphilis.

  • Mike

    RIP, Jeff

  • Vee

    His struggling is over and now he’s at peace.

    • Or he’s…

      just beginning a long eternity of torment at the hands of Satan.

      • SteverB

        Wow, dark.

    • Steven

      I would agree with you Lisa. The main reason to udargpe to the 2.7 is for the added security features. With all the automated spam on blogs these days, its only a matter of time before someone writes a book and hacking old version of wp blogs becomes very easy.

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