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Laverne & Shirley star Eddie Mekka dead at 69


Laverne & Shirley star has Eddie Mekka died at the age of 69.

The actor was most famous for playing Carmine Ragusa on the hit television sitcom.

His brother Warren Mekjian confirmed the news to TMZ on Thursday. The actor is said to have been found dead at his home in Newhall, California, on Saturday.

Per the report, friends and neighbors have become concerned over Mekka, after they hadn’t heard from him in a few days.

Dearly departed: Laverne & Shirley star has Eddie Mekka died at the age of 69; pictured 2003

Dearly departed: Laverne & Shirley star has Eddie Mekka died at the age of 69; pictured 2003

After neighbors decided to call the police, officers arrived at his home to check on him. 

His brother also said that Mekka had been hospitalized for blood cots and could barely walk prior to his death, and there is no indication that his death was suspicious or that foul play was involved. 

Mekka is survived by his daughter Mia, whom he shared with his second wife Yvonne Marie Grace. 

In a Facebook statement his friend Pat Benti requested that ‘inquiries’ about his death ‘be withheld during his family’s time of grief and mourning.’ 

Seen onscreen: Mekka played Carmine, the boyfriend of Cindy Williams' character Shirley; he is pictured alongside Penny Marshall who played Laverne

Seen onscreen: Mekka played Carmine, the boyfriend of Cindy Williams’ character Shirley; he is pictured alongside Penny Marshall who played Laverne

On Laverne & Shirley he played Shirley’s on-off boyfriend Carmine, whom she first became involved with as a high school sweetheart. 

Carmine is a boxer nicknamed ‘The Big Ragoo’ who adores Tony Bennett, dreams of being a singer and eventually lands a gig in Hair on Broadway.

As well as appearing on that program, Mekka also appeared on TV hits such as Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, and then later on the ABC hit Family Matters. 

Mekka was perfectly primed to play a singer himself, having been musically trained with an education at the Boston Conservatory.

TV stardom: Mekka appeared throughout the eight-season run of Laverne & Shirley which premiered in 1976 and was canceled in 1983

TV stardom: Mekka appeared throughout the eight-season run of Laverne & Shirley which premiered in 1976 and was canceled in 1983

He grew up in a Massachusetts town near Boston to an Italian mother and an Armenian father. ‘I’ll make you a rug you can’t refuse,’ he joked.

Mekka told Broadway.com he ‘got the bug’ as a teenager when he was enlisted to compere his high school’s variety show and got a standing ovation.

Eventually he made it onto Broadway and earned a Tony nod in The Lieutenant, a 1975 rock opera about the soldier court martialed over the My Lai massacre.

Years later he told the Boston Globe that ‘I’m glad I was trained in the theater because I think TV makes you lazy. You can always do another take in a film or on TV, while onstage you have to deliver 100 percent all the time.’

Remember when: The series was a spin-off of Happy Days, and while he was on it Mekka also featured on a flop Happy Days spin-off called Blansky's Beauties (pictured)

Remember when: The series was a spin-off of Happy Days, and while he was on it Mekka also featured on a flop Happy Days spin-off called Blansky’s Beauties (pictured)

However he did acknowledge that ‘It was harder to adjust from stage to TV’ and that Laverne & Shirley’s co-creator and director Garry Marshall had to help him.

‘I was acting for the back row, and [director] Garry Marshall told me to pull it back to Cleveland,’ Mekka explained.

Mekka appeared throughout the eight-season run of Laverne & Shirley which premiered in 1976 and was canceled in 1983.

Garry’s sister Penny Marshall, who played Laverne, become ‘like a mentor’ to Mekka, he revealed after her death. 

Iconic: A decade after Laverne & Shirley ended he reunited with Penny Marshall when she directed A League Of There Own where he jitterbugged with Madonna (right)

Iconic: A decade after Laverne & Shirley ended he reunited with Penny Marshall when she directed A League Of There Own where he jitterbugged with Madonna (right)

‘Sitcoms are completely different from Broadway. She helped me over the hurdles. She told me there were three cameras, and that meant three audiences,’ he said.

He told the New York Daily News: ‘She taught me how to not look in the camera because that would kill the whole concept. She taught me how to be on my mark. She told me: “You don’t have to be so animated. Pull it back to Cleveland!”‘

The series was a spin-off of Happy Days, and while he was on it Mekka also featured as another character on a flop Happy Days spin-off called Blansky’s Beauties.

After his years of TV stardom Mekka returned to the stage, even reuniting with Cindy Williams for a touring revival of Grease at the turn of the century. 

Suited up: Mekka, who at one point had a Vegas club act called Eddie Mekka, With A Little Ragoo On The Side, is pictured at the TV Land Awards in 2006

Suited up: Mekka, who at one point had a Vegas club act called Eddie Mekka, With A Little Ragoo On The Side, is pictured at the TV Land Awards in 2006

He cut his teeth as a cabaret performer as well, doing a Vegas club act called Eddie Mekka, With A Little Ragoo On The Side.

A decade after the end of Laverne & Shirley he also appeared as a dancer in Penny Marshall’s film A League Of Their Own starring Madonna and Tom Hanks.

Mekka performed a jitterbug with Madonna’s character Mae in one of the film’s most memorable scenes – and apparently had to finagle his way into the sequence. 

‘Penny wanted me to be the dancer, but Madonna wanted to use the other guy. I have to admit, he was better at the jitterbug. But I was a better acrobat and dancer,’ Mekka remembered while discussing the movie later.

Back to his sitcom days: Mekka is pictured in a portrait taken 1979

Back to his sitcom days: Mekka is pictured in a portrait taken 1979

‘I said to Penny: “I got an idea. Rosie and Madonna’s characters are in competition all the time. Why don’t I do the same number with Mae and have Rosie pull me away to do a combo with her?”‘

Madonna would then be able to ‘have her way too’ by using the other dancer, and Penny Marshall accepted the idea. 

He continued acting as the years went by, including with guest roles on TV shows such as The Young And The Restless and Childrens Hospital.

His final screen role was in the 2018 comedy Hail Mary! about a group of Sumo wrestlers hired to be lineman in an American football team.

Who's who: On Laverne & Shirley he played Shirley's on-off boyfriend Carmine, whom she first became involved with as a high school sweetheart

Who’s who: On Laverne & Shirley he played Shirley’s on-off boyfriend Carmine, whom she first became involved with as a high school sweetheart

However Mekka’s first love as an actor remained the theater, where he spent over a decade playing Tevye in productions of Fiddler On The Roof.

‘Theater is very forgiving,’ he said. ‘Television, you’re only as good as the last thing you did. In theater, you know, you play this theater, that theater, they love you, they bring you back. And that’s what I like about theater.’

He added: ‘I had theater before I had TV and now I have theater after TV. I’ll have theater until I die, you know. Theater is honest. That’s what it is. It’s honest.’

Stagestruck: Before his days of TV stardom Mekka starred on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony in the Vietnam War rock opera The Lieutenant

Stagestruck: Before his days of TV stardom Mekka starred on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony in the Vietnam War rock opera The Lieutenant



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