Nicholas Colasanto, the affable and slow-witted Coach of the NBC series "Cheers," suffered a heart attack and died Tuesday morning while sitting in bed watching television at home, a network spokesman said.
The 61-year-old actor recently was hospitalized by a long-standing heart ailment and had missed several episodes of the popular TV show in which he played Ernie Pantusso, a former baseball coach tending bar in Boston.
NBC publicist Bill Kiley said there were "a lot of tears" when the "Cheers" cast learned shortly before Tuesday night's scheduled taping at Paramount Studios that Colasanto had died. "It's a very close unit," Kiley said.
The taping was canceled.
Les Charles, executive producer of the show, said, "After we found out, we got the entire cast together and made the announcement. Everyone was heartbroken."
Charles said there was no immediate decision on how to "fill the void" left by Colasanto's death.
"We'll have to do something. The one thing we know for sure is we won't try to have another 'Coach' or anything like that character. He's irreplaceable."
Kiley said Colasanto attended last week's taping as a spectator, assuring series stars Ted Danson, Shelley Long and others that he was feeling better and expected to rejoin the cast for the final show of the season, two or three weeks from now.
Kiley said the actor's physician said she had been treating him for a heart ailment for about four years.
Actor for 30 Years
Colasanto was born in Providence, R.I., and gave up his job as an oil company accountant to become an actor 30 years ago. He appeared in such Broadway plays as "Across the Board Tomorrow Morning," which brought him a Tony nomination, and "A Hatful of Rain."
He performed in numerous television shows as well as films, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Family Plot," John Huston's "Fat City" and "Raging Bull," in which he played a Mafia gangster.
He also directed episodes for various television series, including "Bonanza," "Columbo," "The Name of the Game" and "Hawaii Five-0."
"As an actor," Ted Danson said, "I miss him very much. As Sam Malone (the character Danson plays on the show), I miss him like I would a father."
Colasanto was unmarried.