Jeff Conaway, who starred in the sitcom “Taxi,” played Kenickie in the movie “Grease” and publicly battled drug and alcohol addiction on “Celebrity Rehab,” died Friday at age 60.
Surrounded by famiy, the actor was taken off life support Thursday and died Friday morning at Encino Tarzana Medical Center, according to one of his managers, Kathryn Boole.
On May 11, he was taken to the hospital unconscious and placed in a medically induced coma while being treated for pneumonia and sepsis, which is blood poisoning caused by a bacterial infection. Conaway had failed to seek medical aid, instead trying to treat himself with pain pills and cold medicine, said Phil Brock, Boole’s business partner.
Conaway is the second person who appeared in the VH1 reality series “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” who later died. In March, former [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Alice in Chains[/lastfm] bassist Mike Starr, who was on the show in 2009, was found dead in Salt Lake City. The month before, police there had arrested him on suspicion of possession of medications without a required prescription.
Conaway had acknowledged his addictive tendencies in a 1985 interview with The Associated Press, when he described turning his back on the dream of a pop music career. He’d played guitar in a 1960s band called [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]3 1/2[/lastfm] that was the opening act for groups including [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Herman’s Hermits[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Young Rascals [/lastfm]and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Animals[/lastfm].
Conaway had a small part on “Happy Days” that led to larger roles. He had roles in small films and then in the movie version of “Grease” (1978), although he lost the top-billed part to John Travolta. In 1978, he won the “Taxi” job — playing vain, struggling actor Bobby Wheeler — in what proved to be a hit for ABC. Conaway, who received two Golden Globe nominations for “Taxi,” said he lost interest early of being a series regular, although he stayed with the series for three years, until 1981 (“Taxi” ended in 1983 after moving to NBC the year before).
A 1994-98 stint in the sci-fi TV series “Babylon 5” as security chief Zack Allan proved successful, but it was followed by only scattered roles on stage, in films and TV shows. He was in the reality series “Celebrity Fit Club” in 2006 and then in “Celebrity Rehab,” in which the frail Conaway used a wheelchair and blacked out on camera.
Initial reports had indicated that Conaway suffered a drug overdose, when in fact he was suffering from Pneumonia, but did not seek treatment until it was too late.