Jeff Conaway

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Jeff Conaway
Conaway in 1998
Jeffrey Charles William Michael Conaway

(1950-10-05)October 5, 1950
DiedMay 27, 2011(2011-05-27) (aged 60)
Years active1971–2011
  • Unknown (m. 1971; ann. 1971)
Rona Newton-John
(m. 1980; div. 1985)
Kerri Young
(m. 1990; div. 2000)

Jeffrey Charles William Michael Conaway[1] (October 5, 1950 – May 27, 2011)[1] was an American actor. He portrayed Kenickie in the film Grease and had roles in two television series: struggling actor Bobby Wheeler in Taxi and security officer Zack Allan on Babylon 5. Conaway was featured in the first and second seasons of the reality television series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Early life[edit]

Conaway was born on October 5, 1950, in Manhattan, New York, and raised in the Astoria, Flushing, and Forest Hills neighborhoods of Queens.[2]

His father, Charles,[2] was an actor, producer, and publisher.[3] His mother, Helen, an actress who went by the stage name Mary Ann Brooks,[2] taught music at New York City's Brook Conservatory. They divorced when he was 3,[3] and Conaway and his two older sisters lived with their mother.[4]

He also spent time living with his grandparents in South Carolina, which gave him enough of a Southern accent[4] that when he accompanied his mother to a casting call for director Arthur Penn's Broadway play All the Way Home, a story set in Knoxville, Tennessee, the 10-year-old Conaway landed a featured role as one of four boys.[3] The 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning play was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play and ran 333 performances and one preview from November 29, 1960, to September 16, 1961.[5] Conaway remained for the entire run, then toured with the national company of the play Critic's Choice.[3]

Conaway worked as a child model, and attended high school at the Quintano School for Young Professionals.[3] After playing with the rock band 3+12 beginning at age 15, he attended the North Carolina School of the Arts[3][6] and later transferred to New York University.[3]


While at NYU, Conaway appeared in television commercials and had the lead in a school production of The Threepenny Opera.[3] He made his film debut in the 1971 romantic drama Jennifer on My Mind, which also featured future stars Robert De Niro and Barry Bostwick.[3]

Grease and Taxi[edit]

The following year, Conaway appeared in the original cast of the Broadway musical Grease, as an understudy to several roles including that of the lead male character, Danny Zuko, and eventually succeeded role-originator Barry Bostwick.[2][7]

He played the role for 2+12 years while his friend John Travolta, with whom he shared a manager, later joined the show, playing the supporting role of Doody.[2][8] The two would reunite in the 1978 motion picture musical Grease, in which Travolta played Zuko and Conaway his buddy Kenickie.[2]

Conaway as Bobby Wheeler in Taxi

After breaking into series television in 1975 with Happy Days, followed by guest spots in several other TV shows, and three more films including Grease, he was cast as aspiring actor Bobby Wheeler on Taxi, which premiered in fall 1978.[9]

He had appeared in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the same producers, and, he said in 1987, had been considered for the role of John Burns, which eventually went to Randall Carver:

But then one day I got the whole script and became real interested in the actor character, then called Bobby Taylor. And [the producers] said they had been thinking along the same lines, so I read again. Later I got a call from [original casting director] Joel Thurm, who says, 'Well, it's not good news, but it's not bad news either.' He says I'm the only choice for a white actor, but that they'd had a meeting and thought that maybe Bobby should be black and that now they're looking at black actors. ... So I went back to read, and it was me, Cleavon Little, and somebody else.... I ended up reading with [star] Judd Hirsch and it went really well."[10]

Conaway left Taxi after the third season. Part of the reason was his drug abuse after season one.[2] Taxi writer Sam Simon recalled in 2008 that during production of Simon's first script for that show, a missing Conaway was found in his dressing room too high on drugs to perform. Conaway's dialogue for that episode was divided between his co-stars Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, who delivered the jokes well enough so that Conaway's absence had little negative effect on the episode. This development caused the show's producers to realize that Conaway was expendable and this contributed to his termination.[11] Conaway was reported at the time to be dissatisfied with being typecast as a "blond bimbo" and the "butt of struggling-actor jokes," along with finding the nature of the role repetitive.[12] He also felt creatively stymied:

I wanted to do things with Bobby, but as the show went on, I could see I wasn't going to get that chance ... Lemme tell you – I loved Bobby, I identified with Bobby. So, yeah, I kind of took everything personally. I had a lot of meetings with [the producers] because I was unhappy ... Sure, partially it was ego, but let me do what I do best. It was frustrating. I remember leaving the studio feeling guilty and unhappy. I just couldn't appreciate it and use it as just a job, as a learning experience. Instead I saw it as, 'Hey, anybody could do this character.' Like nobody else could do Louie or Jim, they were such defined characters. But Bobby – anybody could walk in and say, 'Hi, Alex.'"[13]

After Taxi[edit]

Conaway starred in the short-lived 1983 fantasy-spoof series Wizards and Warriors. He made guest appearances on such shows as Barnaby Jones, George & Leo, and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in films such as Jawbreaker, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, and Do You Wanna Know a Secret?

From 1989 to 1990, he played Mick Savage on The Bold and the Beautiful. In 1993, he appeared onstage in Real Life Photographs.[citation needed] From 1994 to 1999, he played Sergeant, later promoted to Security Chief, Zack Allan on Babylon 5. In 2010 he provided voice-over for the English version of the animated short film Dante's Hell Animated (released in 2013), in which he is credited as "Hollywood legend Jeff Conaway".

Music career[edit]

In addition to acting, Conaway dabbled in music. In the mid-1960s, he was the lead singer and guitarist for a rock band, The 3+12, which recorded four singles for Cameo Records in 1966 and 1967:

  • "Don't Cry to Me Babe" / "R & B In C" (Cameo 425, 1966)
  • "Problem Child" / "Hey Mom Hey Dad" (Cameo 442, 1966)
  • "Hey Gyp" / "Hey Kitty Cool Kitty" (Cameo 451, 1967) (This single was produced by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, who also wrote the B-side. The A-side is a song by Donovan.)
  • "Angel Baby (Don't You Ever Leave Me)" / "You Turned Your Back on Love" (Cameo 485, 1967)

In 1979, Conaway recorded a self-titled debut album for Columbia Records. "City Boy" was released as a single. Bruce Springsteen's manager, Mike Appel, produced the album.[14] In 2000, he released the album It Don't Make Sense You Can't Make Peace on the KEGMusic label.[15]

Personal life[edit]

His stepson, Emerson Newton-John,[1] is a race car driver.


Conaway was married three times. His first, short-lived marriage (when he was 21) was to a dancer he had been seeing for two years. It was annulled.[1][3] His second marriage, from 1980 until their divorce in 1985, was to Rona Newton-John,[2] elder sister of his Grease co-star, Olivia Newton-John.[16] His third marriage was to Kerri Young from 1990 to 2000.[17]

Health problems[edit]

After experiencing a crisis in the mid-1980s, Conaway came to grips with having a substance abuse problem. He underwent treatment in the late 1980s and often spoke candidly about his addictions.[citation needed]

By the mid-2000s he had relapsed. Conaway appeared in VH1's Celebrity Fit Club, but was forced to leave and entered rehabilitation. In early 2008, Conaway appeared with other celebrities in the VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. The show revealed that Conaway was addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and painkillers, and that he was in a codependent relationship with his girlfriend, who was also a user of prescription opiates. Conaway had suffered a back injury earlier in his career on the set of Grease while filming the "Greased Lightning" scene, which had been exacerbated by lifting boxes in his home, and he had turned to substances to manage the pain.

Conaway's appearance on the show's first and second seasons drew much attention[citation needed] because of his severely crippled state, his constant threats to leave the facility, and his frequent inability to speak clearly. Upon arrival at the Pasadena Recovery Center (which was filmed as part of Celebrity Rehab's first episode) Conaway, using a wheelchair, arrived drunk, mumbling to Drew Pinsky that he had binged on cocaine and Jack Daniel's whiskey the previous night.

During the second episode of Celebrity Rehab's first season, Conaway, fed up with his back pain, withdrawal symptoms, and the humiliation of having to be assisted while using the toilet, told Pinsky that he was thinking of killing himself. After Pinsky asked him to elaborate upon how he would carry out a suicidal act, Conaway glared at the mirror in his room and said, "I see myself breaking that mirror and slicing my fucking throat with it." During group sessions, Conaway revealed he was "tortured" during his childhood, as older boys in his neighborhood would put him into dangerous situations, tying him up and threatening him. He also related that he was molested when he was seven years old.[18] Conaway stated that he had been an addict since he was a teenager.[19]

With John Travolta's support, Conaway took courses and auditing from the Church of Scientology to cope with his drug problem and depression,[20] although he did not intend to become a Scientologist.[21][22][23]

In June 2009, Conaway joined Celebrity Rehab castmate Mary Carey at the premiere of her parody film Celebrity Pornhab with Dr. Screw.[24]

In August 2009, Conaway was interviewed by Entertainment Tonight. In the interview, the actor claimed he was much better after a fifth back operation, and that he had yet to use painkillers again. He also discussed unscrupulous doctors and enablers.[25]

In March 2010, shortly after the death of actor Corey Haim, Conaway told E! News that he had warned Haim about dying because of prescription drug abuse.[26]


On May 11, 2011, Conaway was found unconscious from what was initially described as an overdose of substances believed to be pain medication and was taken to Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Encino, California, where he was listed in critical condition.[27] After initial reports, Drew Pinsky, who had treated Conaway for substance abuse, said the actor was suffering not from a drug overdose, but rather from pneumonia with sepsis, for which he was placed into an induced coma.[28][29]

Though his drug use did not cause his pneumonia, it hampered Conaway's ability to recognize how severely ill he was and to seek treatment for pneumonia until it was too late.[12]

On May 26, 2011, Conaway's family took him off life support after doctors determined they could do nothing to revive him. Conaway died the following morning at the age of 60.[12] Conaway's doctor attributed his death to his addiction, stating, "What happens is, like with most opiate addicts, eventually they take a little too much ... and they aspirate so what's in their mouth gets into their lungs ... That's what happened with Jeff."[30]

An autopsy performed on Conaway revealed that the actor died of various causes, including aspiration pneumonia and encephalopathy, attributable to drug overdoses.[31]


Golden Globe Award



Year Title Role Notes
1971 Jennifer on My Mind Hanki
1976 The Eagle Has Landed Frazier
1977 Delta County, U.S.A. Terry Nicholas
1977 Pete's Dragon Willie Gogan
1977 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Lactamaeon
1978 Grease Kenickie
1980 For The Love of It Russ [33]
1983 Making of a Male Model Chuck Lanyard
1984 Covergirl T.C. Sloane [34]
1986 The Patriot Mitchell
1988 Elvira: Mistress of the Dark Travis
1989 Ghost Writer Tom Farrell [35]
1989 The Banker Cowboy
1989 Tale of Two Sisters Taxi driver
1990 The Sleeping Car Bud Sorenson [36]
1991 Dumb Luck in Vegas [37]
1991 Total Exposure Peter Keynes [38]
1991 A Time to Die Frank [39]
1992 Mirror Images Jeffrey Blair [40]
1992 Eye of the Storm Tom Edwards [41]
1992 Almost Pregnant Charlie Alderson [42]
1992 Bikini Summer II / Bikini Summer 2 Stu Stocker (also director) [43]
1993 Alien Intruder Borman
1993 In a Moment of Passion Werner Soehnen [44]
1993 L.A. Goddess Sean [45]
1993 Sunset Strip Tony [46]
1993 It's Showtime Rinaldi [47]
1994 2002: The Rape of Eden Reverend [48]
1997 The Last Embrace Jagger
1998 Shadow of Doubt Bixby
1999 Jawbreaker Marcie's Father
1999 Man on the Moon Jeff Conaway - Taxi Actor Uncredited[49]
2001 Do You Wanna Know a Secret? Agent Owen Sacker
2002 Curse of the Forty-Niner Reverend Sutter
2002 The Biz Gavin Elliot [50]
2003 Miner's Massacre [51]
2004 Ymi Digger's Dad [52]
2004 Pan Dulce Gabriel Levine [53]
2004 The Corner Office[citation needed] Dick
2006 The Pool 2 Agent Frank Gun [54]
2005 From Behind the Sunflower Leo [55][56]
2006 Living the Dream Dick
2006 The Utah Murder Project Sheriff Dan Patterson [57]
2008 Wrestling Franklin Conner
2010 Dante's Inferno: Abandon All Hope[58] 40-minute short film
2010 Ladron Commander Hill [59]
2010 Dark Games Tom Doyle [1] Released 2017[citation needed]


Year Title Role Notes
1975–1976 Happy Days  Rocko 2 episodes
1975 Joe Forrester 1 episode, 1975 "The Best Laid Schemes"
1975 Movin' On  Mike / Mike Miller 2 episodes, 1974 "Landslide" (S01, E16), 1975 "The Long Way To Nowhere" (S02, Ep10)
1976–1977 Barnaby Jones  Jeff Saunders 2 episodes
1976 The Mary Tyler Moore Show  Kenny Stevens 1 episode
1977 Delta County, USA  Terry Nicholas TV movie-ABC
1978–1982 Taxi Bobby Wheeler 69 episodes
1978 Kojak  Bert Gaines 1 episode "May the Horse Be with You"
1978 California Jam II Host and interviewer[60] Tv Special by ABC, first aired on May 19, 1978[60]
1979 Breaking Up Is Hard to Do  Roy Fletcher TV movie
1980 For the Love of It  Russ TV movie
1981 The Nashville Grab  Buddy Walker TV movie
1983 Making of a Male Model  Chuck Lanyard TV movie
1983 Wizards and Warriors  Prince Erik Greystone 8 episodes
1984–1994 Murder, She Wrote  Howard Griffin / Nolan Walsh / Tom Powell 4 episodes, 1984, 1986, 1993, 1994
1985 Berrenger's  John Higgins 11 episodes
1985 The Love Boat  Andy Jackson 1 episode
1985 Who's the Boss?  Jeff 1 episode, 1985
1986 Matlock (NBC)  Daniel Ward 1 episode, "The Affair" (S01, E5)
1987 Bay Coven  Josh McGwin TV movie
1987 Hotel  Eric Madison 1 episode
1984–1987 Mike Hammer  Harry Farris 2 episodes, 1984 and 1987
1987 Stingray  Ty Gardner 1 episode
1987 Tales from the Darkside  Peter 1 episode
1988 The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission Sergeant Holt Television movie
1989-1990 The Bold and the Beautiful Mick Savage 61 episodes
1989 Freddy's Nightmares  Buddy Powers 1 episode
1989 Monsters Phil 1 episode
1990 Good Grief  Winston Payne 1 episode
1990 Shades of L.A.  Richard 1 episode
1993 Matlock (ABC)  Slick/Waiter 1 episode, "Matlock's Bad, Bad, Bad Dream" (S08, E11)
1994–1998 Babylon 5  Zack Allan 74 episodes
1995 Burke's Law  Dr. Alex Kenyon 1 episode
1995 Hope and Gloria  Bud Green 1 episode
1996 Mr. & Mrs. Smith  Rich Edwards 1 episode
1997 George & Leo  1 episode, "The Cameo Episode"
1998 Babylon 5: The River of Souls  Zack Allan TV movie
1998 Babylon 5: Thirdspace  Zack Allan TV movie
1999 Babylon 5: A Call to Arms  Zack Allan TV movie
2000 L.A. 7  Manager of Radio Station 1 episode
2004 She Spies  Zachary Mason 1 episode
2006 The John Kerwin Show  Guest 1 episode
2012 Planet Houston [citation needed] Scareglow Voice, 1 episode, "Dedicated to Jeff Conaway", Conaway's final project


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  19. ^ "Jeff talks about Vikki and drugs at home"[dead link], Celebrity Rehab Season 1, Episode 10, March 13, 2008, Vh1, accessed May 28, 2011.
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  32. ^ a b Lovece, with Franco, p. 276
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  40. ^ "Mirror Images". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  41. ^ "Eye of the Storm". Movieguide. August 24, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
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  43. ^ "Bikini Summer II". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
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  60. ^ a b California Jam 2 (1978) on IMDb [1].

External links[edit]