Eddie Mekka

Actor Eddie Mekka, ‘Laverne & Shirley’ Star, Tony Nominee, Dies


LOS ANGELES (Combined Sources) — Eddie Mekka, born Edward Rudolph Mekjian in Worcester, Mass., who was a regular on the hit television series “Laverne & Shirley,” died on November 27 at his home in the Newhall area of Santa Clarita, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles. He was 69.

His death was announced on Mekka’s Facebook page. No cause was given.

Mekka starred as Carmine “The Big Ragu” on the hit TV series.

Mekka, began his career in entertainment at the Worcester County Light Opera in Massachusetts as a voice instructor, according to the New York Post. He soon landed a role in the 1975 Broadway production of “The Lieutenant,” which earned him a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a leading role.

His TV credits included “Blanksy’s Beauties,” “Moonlighting,” “The Love Boat” and most recently “It’s Always Sunday in Philadelphia,” but it was his role as “Laverne & Shirley’s” Carmine, the boyfriend of Cindy Williams’ Shirley, a boxer who wanted to make it big on Broadway (his favorite catchphrase was singing the opening lyrics to the Tony Bennett classic Rags to Riches), that forever endeared him to audiences. The series co-starred Penny Marshall as Laverne.

Williams paid tribute to Mekka via Twitter calling him “a world-class talent who could do it all.”

Eddie Mekka and Cindy Williams on “Laverne & Shirley”

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Mekka’s film credits include “Beaches,” “Dream Girls” and the 1992 Penny Marshall-directed “A League of Their Own,” in which Mekka famously got to show off his hoofing prowess as a soldier courting Madonna’s character, Mae, during a dancing scene at the local bar.

Michael McKean, who co-starred as Lenny Kosnowski on “Laverne & Shirley,” remembered Mekka in a tweet, calling the actor “a genuinely good guy and purveyor of cheer.”

Mekka began and ended his real-life career on the stage, even earning a Tony Award nomination. He was nominated for best actor in a musical for his performance as Lt. William L. Calley Jr., who perpetrated the My Lai massacre of civilians during the Vietnam War, in “The Lieutenant” (1975).

Clive Barnes, reviewing the show for the New York Times, said Mekka displayed “an honesty and openness that proves very attractive” in his portrayal of “a puzzled kid with a gun who has been told to kill.” The musical, with its difficult subject matter, closed after nine performances but received four Tony nominations.

Mr. Mekka returned to the New York stage in 2008, starring in the one-man Off Broadway comedy “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy.”

More recently Mekka appeared on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

He also continued to appear in regional theater. He was Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” Pseudolos in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” his favorite role, which he said in 2003 he had already played more than 20 times.

He had a unique take on the character, as he told the Boston Globe in 2014: “I play him like an older, grumpier and slower Jackie Mason.”

He married the actress DeLee Lively in 1983; they divorced in 1992, and he married Yvonne Marie Grace two years later. Mekka is survived by his daughter, Mia; two brothers, Warren and Wayne; and his sister, Lenore.

(Material from NBCnews, the New York Times and Chicago Sun Times were used to compile this report.)

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