Underappreciated ’80s: Ernie “Coach” Pantusso from Cheers
When you think of the bartenders on the hit ‘80s TV show Cheers, the womanizing Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson in his prime) probably comes to mind.
Most people next think of his simple but charming sidekick behind the Cheers bar—Woody Boyd, the character that gave a young Woody Harrelson his big break.
Both Danson and Harrelson won Emmys for their roles; one of the greatest travesties of television history is that Nicholas Colasanto did not for his stellar performance during three seasons as Ernie Pantusso, better known as “Coach.”
Coach had a big heart—after all, he stuck with Sam Malone even through the ex-pitcher’s drunken escapades—but was not the brightest bulb on the porch. Most of the time, he misunderstood even straightforward questions or statements, leading to some of the best humor in all the years of the show.
At least one episode blamed Coach’s condition on taking far too many pitches to the head while playing baseball. Whatever the cause, Coach’s childlike innocence about his own condition was his best quality.
My favorite Coach moment, however, involved his unusual expertise on Albania. To help him get through a geography class, he had memorized various factoids about the country by singing them to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In:”
You border on the Adriatic
Your land is mostly mountainous
And your chief export is chrome
Colasanto passed away as the show was peaking in popularity in early 1985, throwing the show a curve. Several episodes filmed after his death included outtakes from previously taped segments to stretch out the inevitable, but eventually the show brought Harrelson on board to give Cheers another bartender. But as good as Harrelson was, he never matched Colasanto’s best.
Rest in peace, Coach.