Actor Jeff Conaway, who died earlier today after being in a medically induced coma for more than a week, may be recalled by some for his appearances on “Celebrity Rehab,” and by others as feather-haired, semi-arrogant actor Bobby Wheeler from TV’s “Taxi.”
But above all else, Conaway, 60, will be remembered and immortalized as Kenickie in “Grease,” the 1978 musical that continues to endure on cable TV, DVD and wherever sanitized sing-a-long movies are shown.
John Travolta deservedly gets a lot of credit for the swivel-hipped bravado he brought to the role of Danny Zuko. But Conaway was his ideal, hair-slicked foil as Kenickie, the T-Bird who recognized that his hickies were as valuable as Hallmark cards and that a driver always needs a second at Thunder Road.
Where Travolta was a silky-smooth dancer, Conaway was all herky-jerky rubberband man, as evidenced by his bleacher strut in “Summer Nights” and his highly flexible swagger during “Born to Hand Jive” and “Greased Lightning.” (See clips after the jump).
Kenickie was the guy who had the audacity to bring Cha Cha Digregorio to the dance, and to embarrass Patti Simcox by lifting up her skirt on live television. How low could he go? Deliciously, very.
Photos: Jeff Conaway’s career
But there was a softy underneath all that greaser sleaze, and in scenes with Travolta as well as Stockard Channing’s Rizzo, Conaway revealed that beautifully. When he and Rizzo weren’t bickering, that is.
It’s sad that Conaway died. But there’s something especially poignant about the fact that it happened on the unofficial first day of summer, in the hours before the season’s first summer night.
May Conaway rest in peace knowing that his Kenickie lives on in “Grease,” the movie musical so beloved that it will never die.
“Born to Hand Jive”: