Jeff Conaway, ‘Grease’ Star Who Struggled With Addictions, Dies at 60

Star best known for his work on “Taxi” and appearances on “Celebrity Rehab”

 

Actor Jeff Conaway, who sprang into the popular consciousness as one of the singing and dancing stars of “Grease” before struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol, has died. He was 60.

Conaway died at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, his manager Phil Brock confirmed to TheWrap.

"We loved him as a person, we respected him as a performer, and he will be sorely missed. We hope that he will be remembered for his art," Brock said. 

He was hospitalized earlier this month after he was found unconscious in his home. According to reports, it was believed that Conaway had suffered a drug overdose.

Conaway was reported as having no brain function. Earlier this week his family made the decision to take the actor off of life support, a move challenged by ex-girlfriend Vikki Lizzi.

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After being denied access to Conaway in his final days, Lizzi went to court to try to get the right to see her former partner in the Encino, Calif., hospital where he was staying.

 

Lizzi and Conaway had joint restraining orders against each other.

Although he was in a coma, Conaway’s last days played out like a reality show, with gossip sites breathlessly reporting on his deteriorating condition and court fights between his girlfriend and the Conaway family.

The garish spectacle was to be expected. In recent years, Conaway was best known for his public battles with substance abuse and for his appearances on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” His speech slurred, his eyes blurry and his body frequently consigned to a wheelchair, it was easy to forget the youthful insouciance that almost made Conaway a big star.

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The theater-trained Conaway first began making an impression in Hollywood in the 1970s, scoring small roles in “Pete’s Dragon” and “The Eagle Has Landed.”

But it was his performance as bad boy Kenickie in the 1978 blockbuster “Grease” that caught audiences’ eyes. The cotton-candy flavored musical with just a sprinkle of sex went on to gross nearly $400 million.

While John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John commanded the lion’s share of the attention, Conaway did perform in such classic movie musical numbers as “Greased Lightning” and “We Go Together.”

From “Grease” Conaway moved into television comedy with a role as a struggling actor and cab driver on the sitcom “Taxi.” Puffed up and vain, but ultimately hapless, Conaway earned two Golden Globe nominations during his three years on the show.

However, drugs and alcohol began to take their toll on the actor and he found himself relegated to a recurring role before ultimately being written out of the series.

By the mid-eighties, Conaway’s career was on a downward trajectory, with the actor popping up occasionally in guest spots on programs such as “Murder She Wrote” or “Who’s the Boss.”

He would score one more significant role on the syndicated science fiction series “Babylon 5.” In a part that mirrored his off-screen substance problems, Conaway played security officer Zack Allan, an easygoing hero whose past was darkened by drugs and alcohol problems. He played the part through three seasons and three tele-films. 

Conaway's last turn in the spotlight as a participant in the VH1 reality series "Celebrity Rehab" provided a tragic final coda to a career that had been derailed because of addictions. During group sessions, Conaway confessed to childhood sexual abuse and thoughts of suicide and his relationship with Lizzi was revealed to be one of co-dependence. 

Conaway would continue to relapse throughout his last years, telling various publications that he hoped to be drug free, but remained at times in the grip of pills and other substances. 

Funeral arrangements are pending. 

Tim Kenneally contributed to this report.