R.I.P. Ron Palillo, aka: Arnold Horshack

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The name ‘Arnold Horshack’ might not mean much to a modern audience, but to legions of Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers, it would be synonymous with huge laughs and one fun little television show called Welcome Back, Kotter.

Televised at a time when competition between programs was far less fierce than it is today (thank you expanded number of free-to-air, digital TV, cable and the internet), Welcome Back, Kotter was zoomed into the lounge rooms of viewers worldwide, a show set in the classrooms and corridors of a Brooklyn high-school, and peppered with vivid characters called ‘Sweathogs’ that included John Travolta as Italian stud Vinnie Barbarino; Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs as afro-donning high-fivin’ groover Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Washington; Robert Hegyes as laidback Latino lover Juan Epstein; and Ron Palillo as inimitable class clown Arnold Horshack.

Horshack was usually the first in Mr Kotter’s to ask the dumb questions, always preceded with a darting arm in the air and an obnoxious “Ooh! Ooh-ooh-ooh!” (as in “Please, Mr Kotter, pick me, pick me”). A simple gesture for a quick laugh, and yet a 6-second example of it receives over 100,000 hits on YouTube.

Sure, some of the gags on the show might now be considered twee, but for their time several of the one-liners were actually rather risqué, while Welcome Back, Kotter was one of the first prime-time television programs to really revel in multicultural mixing. Position it alongside whitewashed ’50s-set but ’70s-aired shows like Happy Days, and in a word Kotter would have been considered radical.

Sadly, on Tuesday morning this week, Ron Palillo, who played jokester Horshack, died of a heart attack at age 63. One of the world’s first lovable TV geek, his legacy will be remembered not only in the annals of comedy at large, but in the archives of television history.


To view Horshack and company in typical jokester mode, click here.