By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
In one of my favorite episodes of the 1970s sitcom, “Welcome Back, Kotter,” Arnold Horshack joins a cult.
He’s wrapped up in a bed sheet, and his friends, the Sweathogs, lock him in the boy’s bathroom at school and try to deprogram him.
On the next morning, Vinnie has picked up Horshack’s cult mantra: “What is, is. What was, will be. What will be, was, and will be again.”
Something about that mantra has stayed with me for more than 30 years. I think it has to do with the way Ron Paolillo, the actor who played Horshack, lifted his voice during the last bit: “What will be, WAS, and will be again.”
I can hear him say it now, even though three decades have passed. Paolillo has passed, too. He died Aug. 14 after a heart attack at the age of 63.
The older I get, the stranger my relationship to pop culture becomes. I’m barely plugged in to what’s hot today, other than “The Big Bang Theory” on Thursdays, “Mythbusters” on Sundays and irregular viewings of “The Daily Show.”
There was a time when I was attached to the magical glowing box. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was a young addict who read and studied each week’s TV Guide. The fall launch of new shows was reason for excitement, and I have fond memories of “The Battle of the Network Stars.”
I wasn’t alone in my fascination for the boob tube. Ratings these days are nothing like they were then, when you could bet most TV sets in the nation were tuned to the same channel at the same time.
There are still good shows on TV, even if “Must See TV” has seen better days. I’m not nostalgic for the way things used to be, and I don’t want to watch “The A-Team” or “Happy Days” again. I’ve seen so many episodes of “M*A*S*H” that I can deliver the punch lines before the actors get around to them.
But my relationship with those old shows probably will carry on until I die, unless I outlive all the actors and actresses of my youth. Every time one dies, I remember.
Most “Welcome Back, Kotter” fans preferred John Travolta as Vinnie, but Horshack remains my favorite. He was a good guy, the best of the Sweathogs, really.
(By the way, “Horshack is a very old and respected name. It means the cattle are dying.” And, yes, I can hear Paolillo say that, too.)
Paolillo continued as an actor on stage and screen, but according to interviews, he thought playing Horshack damaged his career. He also was a playwright, director, teacher and illustrator, so he made a life separate from his iconic role.
Maybe it’s selfish, but I hope Paolillo accepted Horshack on some level before he died, because my connection is to that lovable goof I used to hang out with once a week many years ago.
I never met Paolillo in person, but a part of me knew and appreciated a part of him. I wish him well, no matter what is, was or will be.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.