Al Molinaro, who appeared on two highly popular 1970’s sitcoms in remembered roles, The Odd Couple and Happy Days, died Friday from complications of a gall stone in Glendale, CA, according to CNN. He was of 96.
Molinaro appeared on The Odd Couple as Murray the Cop, who was super nice, friendly, and with a kind of puppy dog style ignorance that the character wore around his neck in the nicest possible way. He was mainly there as a comic foil and fellow poker player to the show’s duo of stars, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Although the show’s producer Garry Marshall (who was a friend of Molinaro) allowed the Murray character to stretch out in an episode or two during the five-year run on ABC (1970-1975). With Molinaro’s portly build, large W.C. Fields-like proboscis, and running water charm, he created one of the more memorable character on the program, and is an instantly recognizable one when the series found mega success in syndication.
From there the actor went on a few years later to an equally if possibly even more memorable role to TV audiences as the short order cook “Big” Al Delvecchio, proprietor of Al’s Diner on the program Happy Days. While he wasn’t the first owner of the show’s Milwaukee, WI, diner (that role was played by the late comedian Pat Morita for a few seasons until Morita left join an ill-fated Happy Days spin-off Mr. T and Tina in the mid 1970s), Big Al quickly became a kind of fatherly figure and quiet, down to earth even blue collar elder statesman to the bunch of youthful characters that made up Happy Days. He also acted as a nice counterpoint to the character of Howard Cunningham, known affectionately as Mr. C, and who also acted as a sort of weather vane and lightning rod to help characters’ narratives on the show. Molinaro stayed with the program until its cancellation in 1984 (even adopting a catchphrase of sorts by show’s end, the exasperated “Yep, yep, yep.”). He reprised the character of sorts when he appeared in the video “Buddy Holly” by the indie band Weezer in the mid 1990s, which, through deft and purposely not so deft editing to create campy illusion, recreated classic Happy Days sequences in Arnold’s Diner, in which Happy Days characters meshed with the band members, Molinaro right in the middle of the action. It turned out to be one of his final appearances.
Molinaro went on to become a series regular on the Happy Days spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi, and on 1990’s sitcom The Family Man, and appeared in the 1976 film Freaky Friday.
Molinaro, a Kenosha, Wisconsin native, is survived by his second wife Betty, his son from a first marriage, Michael, and three grandchildren.
RIP Al Molinaro
June 24, 1919 – October 30, 2015
Weezer – “Buddy Holly”
Happy Days Al Delvecchio Yep Yep Yep
Al Molinaro as Big Al Delvecchio in a scene from Happy Days
The Odd Couple – Another Job Well Done, By Your Man In Blue