Actor Jay Thomas, who won two Emmys for his guest role on Murphy Brown, died Thursday after a battle with cancer, The Daily News reports. He was 69.
In a statement, Thomas’ friend and agent Don Buchwald said, “Jay was one of a kind, never at a loss for words and filled with so much fun and wonderfully whacky thoughts and behavior.” Thomas was reportedly surrounded by family at the time of his death.
Thomas amassed myriad credits over the course of his acting career, which began in the early Eighties. His first major role was Remo DaVinci, a recurring character on Mork and Mindy. He later garnered attention for his role on Cheers as hockey player Eddie LeBec, the TV husband of Rhea Perlman’s character Carla (Eddie famously died in a Zamboni accident). On Murphy Brown, Thomas played Jerry Gold, the host of a tabloid talk show and an on-again-off-again love interest of Candice Bergen’s titular character.
Along with his sitcom work, Thomas was a favorite guest on Late Night With David Letterman, where he regularly appeared during the holidays between 1998 and 2014. During his appearances, Thomas would participate in two annual Late Night traditions: The quarterback challenge and a retelling of his famous Lone Ranger story. The first was a game in which Thomas tried to knock a meatball off a Christmas tree with a football, and the second was an elaborate story about how Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore became a witness for Thomas in a minor hit-and-run.
In the Nineties, Thomas earned his first starring sitcom role in Married People, though the show ended after one season. His second effort, Love & War, aired between 1992 and 1995. Over the next few decades, Thomas was a diligent character actor, scoring memorable roles in movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Santa Clause franchise and Dragonfly. Thomas also had a recurring role on HBO’s Ray Donovan, playing the owner of a celebrity tabloid website.
Throughout his acting career, Thomas was a regular voice on radio as well, including most recently a gig on SiriusXM hosting The Jay Thomas Show. As Thomas explained on his website, his career began in radio. He did color commentary for his high school football team and spent his early years jumping around stations in the South before finally landing in New York City. There he not lonely garnered a larger audience – one that included avowed fan Howard Stern – but got the chance to try stand-up comedy, which ultimately led him to acting.