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'Grease,' 'Taxi' star Jeff Conaway dies

Actor Jeff Conaway arrives at the 6th annual

Actor Jeff Conaway arrives at the 6th annual "TV Land Awards" held at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, California. It has been reported that Jeff Conaway is in a coma following an apparent drug overdose. (June 8, 2008) Credit: Getty Images

Jeff Conaway, the troubled actor who found success in the Broadway and movie versions of "Grease" and as a star of the acclaimed ensemble sitcom "Taxi" has died. He was 60.

Conaway was taken off life support Thursday and died Friday morning at Encino Hospital Medical Center, according to one of his managers, Kathryn Boole. He was taken there unconscious on May 11 and placed in a medically induced coma; Conaway had been treating himself with pain pills and cold medicine while in weakened health, said Phil Brock, her business partner.

Conaway was born in Manhattan and raised in Astoria, Flushing and Forest Hills, Queens. The son of actor-producer Charles and actress and music-teacher Helen, he lived with his mother after his parents divorced when he was 3. His first role came at age 10, when he accompanied his mother, known professionally as Mary Ann Brooks, to a casting call for the Broadway play "All the Way Home." Conaway landed a role as one of four boys.

He later worked as a child model and attended Jose Quintano's School for Young Professionals, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and New York University. By then he had made his movie debut in "Jennifer on My Mind" (1971).

He returned to Broadway in the lead role of Danny Zuko in "Grease," succeeding role-originator Barry Bostwick. Conaway starred for 21/2 years while John Travolta, a friend with whom he shared a manager, played Doody in the chorus. The two would reunite in the 1978 movie version, with Travolta as Zuko and Conaway as buddy Kenickie.

That same year, Conaway joined Judd Hirsch, performance artist Andy Kaufman and TV newcomers Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner and Randall Carver on the workplace comedy "Taxi." It won the Emmy Award for best comedy in its first three seasons, and Conaway was nominated for two Golden Globes, playing struggling, self-absorbed actor Bobby Wheeler.

The show ran five years but Conaway departed after three, making a guest appearance the following season. The reasons for his leaving included drug use.

"For the first year of 'Taxi,' I never touched anything," he said in 1992. "I sort of knew if I'd started I wouldn't be able to stop. But then I was having such emotional problems, one day I thought, 'Why not?' and I went on a tear."

His effort to avoid addiction failed, and his battles with cocaine and other substances were painfully shared on "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew," the VH1 series with TV and radio personality Dr. Drew Pinsky. Conaway, who'd had back surgery, blamed his cocaine use and pain pill abuse in part on lingering pain.

Despite the problems, he worked consistently, including a five-year recurring role as Sgt. Zack Allan on "Babylon 5." In the '90s, he directed made-for-video movies.

Conaway had a two-month annulled marriage to a dancer when he was 21. He was married to singer Olivia Newton-John's older sister, Rona, from 1980 to 1985, and was stepfather to her son Emerson. He married his second wife, Kerri, in 1990. They later divorced.

-- With AP

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