Al Molinaro, drive-in owner in “Happy Days,” dies at 96

1 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Happy Days’ star Al Molinaro dies at 96 in California hospital.

GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) — Al Molinaro, the lovable character actor with the hangdog face who was known to millions of TV viewers for playing Murray the cop on The Odd Couple and malt shop owner Al Delvecchio on Happy Days, died Friday at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, his son Michael Molinaro said. It was here that the main characters would gather — including leather-jacketed bad boy Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler, and the clean-cut Richie Cunningham, depicted by Ron Howard.The actor, who played Arnold’s Drive-in (the main hang-out spot in the show) owner ‘Big Al Delvecchio’, from 1976 to 1982, died from medical complications at the age of 96. Molinaro played Delvecchio in more than a 100 episodes, according to the LA Times, which quoted him as saying: “When you live with a character as long as I have, you know how he would talk in almost any situation.” Molinaro also starred in the “Happy Days” spinoff “Joanie Loves Chachi,” as well as in “The Odd Couple,” and appeared in commercials later in life. Happy Days ran for 11 seasons from 1974 to 1984 – although it was probably most popular in the UK when it was repeated in the nineties – and had a huge influence on modern television.

The sitcom actually opened with Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets (another classic tune) for the first few seasons before being replaced with Happy Days by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. It starred Tony Randall as photographer Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as sports writer Oscar Madison and featured Molinaro as one of their buddies, a simpleminded policemen who at times seemed as much a threat to his friends as he did to any crooks.

Not only was Fonzie good at absolutely everything, particularly charming the ladies, he also had magical abilities when it came to technology and was able fix or turn on anything by punching it or clicking his fingers. He left his job as assistant city manager in Kenosha and gradually cobbled together emceeing and other entertainment work, while supporting his family running a collection agency. “I spent 20 years here before I got anything going,” Molinaro later said. “You’ve just got to be lucky and in the right place at the right time.” In his case, his luck began with an improvisation class taught by comic actor Harvey Lembeck. Although the show revolved around Richie and his friends, we couldn’t get enough of his parents Howard (Tom Bosley, who died in 2010) and Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross).

His next long-running role was that of Al Delvecchio in “Happy Days,” the 1974-1984 nostalgic sitcom about 1950s life that starred Ron Howard and Henry Winkler. Molinaro joined the cast in 1976, replacing Pat Morita as the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In, and remained until 1982. “In the industry, they used to consider us like a bubble-gum show,” he said. “But I think they overlooked one thing. The relationship between Richie’s younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and Fonzie’s cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) was one of the most riveting ‘will they or won’t they’ storylines of its time.

For one episode, Felix and Oscar find him in a New York park at night, dressed in drag for a special assignment to arrest “shady types.” “This time of night,” Murray explains, “the muggers don’t get a great selection. To the public in America, ‘Happy Days’ was an important show, and I think it was and I think it still is.” Molinaro built on his “Happy Days” success for years after he left the show. Although we’ve become used to budding TV couples being blighted by drama in modern TV shows, the slow and sweet courtship between this pair was incredibly endearing to watch. He appeared in an episode from season five called My Favorite Orkan in which Mork tries to take Richie back to his planet as a human specimen, but is stopped by Fonzie (well, who else?). Molinaro played a grandfather in “The Family Man” sitcom that aired from 1990-1991, and continued to make guest appearances on other series through the early ‘90s.

In 1990, Molinaro told the Chicago Tribune that Marshall, who went on to direct hit films including “Pretty Woman,” tried unsuccessfully to recruit him for big-screen work. “I can’t work in movies with Garry because I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it,” Mr.

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