Thursday, August 24, 2017

Godspeed Jay Thomas

Jay Thomas, who starred on the sitcom Love & War and had significant recurring roles on Cheers and Murphy Brown, died today at the age of 69. He had been struggling against cancer.

Jay Thomas was born Jon Thomas Terrell on July 12 1948 in Kermit, Texas. He grew up in New Orleans. It was while he was in college that he did both sportscasting and stand-up comedy. He eventually became a DJ in New York. He later worked for KPWR in Los Angeles. Mr.Thomas was still a DJ when he was cast in a recurring role on Mork & Mindy in 1981. Later in the decade he played the recurring role of hockey player Eddie LeBec on Cheers. Still later he had a recurring role on Muprhy Brown as tabloid talk show host Jerry Gold. He was part of the cast of the short lived show Married People. He also guest starred on such shows as Love Boat, Spenser: For Hire, Family Ties, A Year in the Life, The Golden Girls, and Open House. He appeared in the movies C.H.U.D. (1984) and The Gig (1985).

In the Nineties Jay Thomas was one of the leads on the show Love & War. He played newspaper columnist Jack Stein. In the first season Jack had an on-again, off-again romance with restaurateur Wally Porter (played by Susan Dey). Susan Dey left the show at the end of the first season, after which Annie Potts joined the cast as Dana Palladino. Dana bought Wally's restaurant and became Jack's love interest not long afterwards. He later starred in the short-lived comedy Katie Joplin. Jay Thomas also continued to appear on Murphy Brown as Jerry Gold. He also guest starred on Cybill, Ink (as Jack Stein), Fantasy Island, The Simple Life, Dead Man's Gun, and Working.  He was a regular voice on the TV cartoon Hercules and a guest voice on Batman: The Animated Series, Goof Troop Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and The Wild Thornberrys. He appeared in the movies Straight Talk (1992), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Dirty Laundry (1996), A Smile Like Yours (1997), The Adventures of Ragtime (1998), Monkey Business (1998), Last Chance (1999), Stranger in My House (1999), and The Big Tease (1999).

In the Naughts Mr. Thomas guest starred on The Education of Max Bickford, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Run of the House, Joan of Arcadia, Boston Legal, and Cold Case. He appeared in the movies The Santa Clause 2 (2002), The Pool Boys (2009), Labor Pains (2009), and Sex Tax: Based on a True Story (2010). He was a voice in the animated film Teacher's Pet (2004).

In the Teens he had a recurring role on Ray Donovan. He guest starred on the shows Retired at 35, Hung, Shake It Up!, NCIS: New Orleans, and Bones. He appeared in the Horrorween (2011), Snatched (2011), Talker (2011), Life Tracker (2013), Underdogs (2013), and The Trials of Cate McCall (2013).

In 2005 he began a stint as the host of The Jay Thomas Show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. 

Beginning in 2001 Jay Thomas began a stint as an annual guest on the Christmastime edition of The Late Show with David Letterman. Each time he told the story of his experience with the legendary Clayton Moore when he was still a DJ.

Jay Thomas was quite simply an incredible actor. He had a particular gift for comedy, with impeccable timing. What is more, he could play a variety of roles. As Eddie LeBec he was a good natured hockey player with a superstitious streak. As Jerry Gold  he was a right-wing tabloid talk show host. As Jack Stein he was a liberal newspaper columnist. Curiously, Jay Thomas often played Jewish characters, even though his father was Catholic and his mother was Protestant. He was so convincing many people believed he was Jewish.

While he was particularly gifted at comedy, Jay Thomas could play dramatic roles just as well.  He played Mr. Holland's best friend, football coach Bill Meister in Mr. Holland's Opus. On Ray Donovan he played . Marty Grossman, owner of salacious TMZ-style website Of course, Jay Thomas was also an incredible storyteller. While I loved him in nearly every role in which I saw him, my fondest memories of Mr. Thomas are not as an actor, but instead as David Letterman's guest telling his extremely funny but true story about his experience with Clayton Moore. Jay Thomas was a versatile actor with a gift for comedy, but one who could also play dramatic roles equally well. Quite simply, he was one of the best character actors to emerge in the Eighties.

1 comment:

KC said...

My favorite thing about him was the Letterman appearances too. Just an entertaining guy doing what he does best. And I loved the weirdness of trying to hit the meatball and pizza at the top of the Christmas tree with a football. It was honestly the first thing I thought of when I heard the news.