What Happened To The Cast Of Welcome Back, Kotter? - Looper (2024)

Television

What Happened To The Cast Of Welcome Back, Kotter? - Looper (1)

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ByAmy Young/

The award-winning sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter ran on ABC for four seasons between 1975 and 1979. It stars Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, the teacher of a remedial class at his alma mater, James Buchanan High School, located in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The group of teens the show focuses on, who are in Kotter's class, is known as the Sweathogs. They're a band of outsiders and the school's principal and other staff members don't help them feel welcome, viewing the teens as unteachable lost causes. Kotter is able to develop a relationship with the Sweathogs that allows them to let their potential come to the fore.

That heartwarming mission is the core of the show. At the surface level, every episode is rampant with running gags, like the Sweathogs regularly popping by Kotter and his wife's apartment uninvited, entering through the living room window via the building's fire escape.

Fans got to enjoy the show beyond the screen. It inspired board games, comic books, lunch boxes, and action figures. It was also a career launchpad for many of its stars, with some like John Travolta going on to plenty of cinematic success. In 2010, the cast was honored at a TV Land Awards ceremony, with many of the stars in attendance. Most of them have continued acting, while some have taken different turns, from directing to competitive gambling. Let's take a look at what Welcome Back, Kotter's main players have been doing since the show ended.

Gabe Kaplan

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Gabe Kaplan co-created Welcome Back, Kotter– where he also served as a writer and played the show's title role. As the snarky high school teacher, Kaplan shows the range of emotions involved with returning to his alma mater to teach this class of outcasts. Mr. Kotter appears in only a handful of episodes during the show's fourth and final season, with contract disputes being the reason. The same year the show ended, he appeared as the basketball coach in the high school comedyFast Break.

Kaplan was a professional funnyman before getting involved with the Kotter series. He'd been doing stand-up comedy since the 1960s, appearing on TV shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After Kotter, he went back to stand-up, save for a few appearances on different network shows in the '80s, like The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote. In 2018, he lent his voice to the character Abe Ziegler on an episode of BoJack Horseman. On the show, Kaplan loved to imitate the legendary comedian Groucho Marx, and in his career, he had some opportunities to star as Marx.

Throughout his career, Kaplan has devoted a considerable amount of time playing professional poker. He's competed in big tournaments since the '70s, and as of 2017, his total live tournament winnings were nearly two million dollars.

John Travolta

With the resounding success of Pulp Fiction in 1994, it would be easy to assume that his role as Vincent Vega is what put John Travolta on the map. However, the actor — who also sings and dances — became a household name a couple of decades prior to that major Tarantino release. In fact, it was playing a different character named Vincent onWelcome Back, Kotterthat made Travolta a mega star.

Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino was the "official unofficial" leader of the Sweathogs, friends who liked to trade insults like the one he popularized: "Up your nose with a rubber hose." That phrase became part of the fans' lexicon. If people weren't using it as a goofy retort, they were wearing a T-shirt with the insult brandished across the front. Travolta was a hot commodity at that time. In the years that Kotter ran, he was in three box office successes: Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease.

After having a number of hits on his resume, things slowed down for Travolta in the '80s, enough that when he starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson in 1994'sPulp Fiction, it was seen as a career resurgence. From movies like Hairspray to The Punisher, to playing attorney Robert Shapiro in the TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, he's been actively working since.

Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs

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It was Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs who brought Sweathog Freddie Percy "Boom Boom" Washington to life. Known for his talents on the basketball court, Washington travels with an air of confidence. His trademark phrase was simple — all he said was, "Hi, there," but it was how he said it that resonated. It's delivered smoothly and in a deep, resounding voice. It was another of the show's one-liners that jumped from the screen and into popular culture.

Like a lot of the Kotter cast members, Hilton-Jacobs started acting in the late '60s and has been working consistently since that show came to a halt. A diverse list of roles for the actor include playing an LAPD detective on Alien Nation and the patriarch of the Jackson family (as in Michael and Janet), Joe Jackson, in the miniseriesThe Jacksons: An American Dream. Hilton-Jacobs is also a crooner who has recorded a few solo records and performed with singers like Rick James.

Ron Palillo

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Ron Palillo's career started in the late '60s. He had a few minor roles on TV shows before being cast as Arnold Horshack, whose defining trait was his loud, deep laugh that sounded like a hyena's mating call. It was simultaneously annoying and endearing. He was the quirkiest — and possibly the smartest — of the Sweathogs. Horshack was promoted out of their remedial class but returned because he felt more at ease with his friends.

When Kotter ended, Palillo continued down a long road of appearances on network television shows, includingThe A-Team, Trapper John, M.D., and CHiPs. In the mid-'90s, he played himself on Ellen, the talk-show host's popular sitcom. Acting, in TV and stage roles, was just a part of Palillo's performing career. He also directed several theater productions and illustrated a couple of children's books.

Palillo's full-length production, The Lost Boy, about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, debuted in New York in 2005 and was performed on various stages. Though he had an active career, upon his death in 2012 — due to a heart attack — a newspaper article reflected on his ambivalent feelings about the role.

Robert Hegyes

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Robert Hegyes played Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein, a Sweathog with a running gag of attempting to pass off phony excuse notes from his mom. He reads them aloud to Mr. Kotter and other supervising faculty members, making certain to emphasize that each one is signed by "Epstein's Mother," to enforce their validity. He studied acting in college and prior to claiming the Epstein role, he'd been doing theater in New York City.

When he was 25, Hegyes also began directing some episodes of Kotter. A Marx Brothers fan, like Kaplan, Hegyes played Chico Marx in a touring production of An Evening with Groucho Marx and then slid into a recurring role on the popular cop drama, Cagney & Lacey, playing Manny Esposito for more than 40 episodes.

His acting career slowed down after that, finding him doing a handful of roles and appearing as himself in some television retrospectives. Hegyes studied acting in college and later gave that knowledge back, maintaining a teaching career that included instructing students in screenplay writing and acting at Rowan University, his alma mater. Hegyes died of a heart attack in 2012, at age 60.

Marcia Strassman

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In her best known role, Marcia Strassman played Gabe Kotter's wife, Julie, on the sitcom after kicking off her career about a decade prior. As Mrs. Kotter, she loves the students but is sometimes annoyed by their constant visits outside of school hours. One of the show's running bits is about Julie trying to get everyone to eat her "world famous tuna casserole," which is obviously terrible and inedible. Thankfully, she got to do more on the show than just cook — she, like her hubby, had a degree, and she eventually started working at Buchanan High, too. Strassman had been public at times about being unhappy on the Kotter set.

Once the show ended, Strassman's career didn't — she appeared on several shows like E/R, Murder, She Wrote, Tremors and Baywatch, along with the hit movie Honey, IShrunk the Kids and its sequel, Honey, IBlew Up the Kid. Her last acting job was on a 2014 TV movie called Looking For Mr. Right. Strassman died in 2014 after a long battle with cancer. She published a memoir in 2008 in which she talks about her illness and career.

John Sylvester White

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Gabe Kotter's prime mission in returning to his alma mater is to help the Sweathogs learn while increasing their self-confidence. He found his adversary in Michael Woodman, the school's assistant principal who ultimately lands the top job of principal. John Sylvester White played Woodman, a grumpy guy who had been one of Kotter's teachers when he was a student at James Buchanan High. Woodman was no fan of the Sweathogs, verbally cutting them down at every turn. The wisecracking crew had plenty of insulting barbs to throw back at him, making fun of everything from Woodman's short stature to his stodgy behavior. Ultimately, he came around, somewhat, showing the students a little respect.

White's career wasn't terribly active once Welcome Back, Kotter was done. He went on to appear in just a handful of TV shows, withMama's Family and Aliceamong those last acting gigs. He relocated to Hawaii with his wife in the early '80s and lost his life to pancreatic cancer in 1988.

Stephen Shortridge

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Stephen Shortridge joined the Welcome Back, Kotter party in its final season. He played Beau De LaBarre, a transplant from New Orleans who was kicked out of a bunch of schools prior to becoming a Buchanan High student. De LaBarre is a slick talker who goes out of his way to try and charm and impress his female classmates.

The show ended in 1979 and for the next decade, Shortridge was a busy guy. He was in more than 50 television commercials, selling goods from co*ke to Head and Shoulders shampoo. He also did a daytime soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, and appeared in several hit programs of the '70s and '80 like The Fall Guy, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.

His acting career ended with Say Anything, the hit teen movie starring John Cusack as loveable loner Lloyd Dobler that was released in 1989. Shortbridge had attended college on a water polo scholarship, where he also studied painting. Turns out, his fondness for the latter was the calling he gravitated to, replacing acting with a full-time painting career. He remains active in that realm.

Vernee Watson

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Vernee Watson played Vernajeen Williams, the girlfriend of Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington. That wasn't the only time she appeared on screen with John Travolta. She had a part in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, an emotional 1976 TV movie about a teen (Travolta) who has an immune disease and lives in an elaborate "bubble" that he yearns to break free from.

Kotter was her TV debut, but she already had a few movies under her belt by that point. The '80s were fairly quiet years for Watson, when it came to acting, but when the 1990s kicked in, she started a steady stream of work that hasn't seemed to stop since. Good Times, The West Wing, and The Jeffersons are just a few shows she did. Fans of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air might recognize her as Will's mom, Viola "Vy" Smith. Currently, she can be seen on the CBS sitcom, Bob Hearts Abishola.

Charles Fleischer

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Charles Fleischer joined the Welcome Back, Kotter team in season two to play the obnoxious Carvelli, a rival of the Sweathogs. In one episode, Horshack — who isn't exactly known for being a fighter — attempts to earn a reputation as a tough guy by taking on Carvelli in the boxing ring. He and his sidekick Wilbur Murray regularly get into rifts with the Sweathogs.

Fleischer's resume is a mile long. Once Kotter ended, he was seen in a slew of TV shows and movies. One of his most memorable performances is one that can't be seen, only heard: he is the voice of Roger Rabbit, and a couple of other characters, in the animated comedy movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?The 1988 movie is finally getting a sequel, so Fleischer could return to lend his pipes to the tale. When he isn't acting, he's got a business to tend to — he's part owner of a multimedia company based in California. An early stand-up performer, he still takes to the stage from time to time to provide audiences with some laughs.

What Happened To The Cast Of Welcome Back, Kotter? - Looper (2024)
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