As was the case for many people of my generation, my first introduction to #JayThomas was in his role as #EddieLeBec on #Cheers. He was #Carla's husband, and while I thought that Eddie and Carla didn't really fit together, the two of them were great on screen and had a lot of chemistry. As it turns out, I wasn't wrong in thinking the two didn't really "fit" as a couple; reportedly, Thomas got the axe because he and #RheaPerlman, who played Carla, didn't get along at all.
Ken Levine, who wrote for Cheers, said that while the two actors made a great couple, the controversy was a kiss of death of Thomas' own doing.
"Finally we decided to marry them," he remarked of the story arc. "A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show a caller asked him what it was like to be on CHEERS? He said something to the effect of 'It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.'"
As it turned out, Thomas went on to even bigger things as #MurphyBrown's love interest, #JerryGold. His performances there turned into pure gold, as he snagged two Emmy Awards for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series and an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the same role.
It was in these two shows that I saw Jay Thomas, the loud, often obnoxious funnyman who had a heart. I could see why both Carla and Murphy Brown loved his characters; much as he might be a royal pain in the butt at times, there was never a question about who he was at his core, and I thought Thomas portrayed both men with credibility and warmth.
It was in Mr. Holland's Opus, though, that I got to see a whole different side to Thomas, and I was quite honestly shocked. While he did play something of a stereotype - the cheerful jock giving the music teacher something of a hard time - his performance as Holland's best friend and the man whom #RichardDreyfuss, Mr. Holland himself, referred to as the "rock" of Mr. Holland's Opus.
Truthfully, playing a football coach who minored in dance would be a heck of a lot of fun, and as Bill Meister, Thomas was warm, sometimes serious, and always fiercely loyal. The "rock" of the film, indeed, and his performance as well as Dreyfuss' inspired many teachers to pursue professions in education.
Dreyfuss said that Thomas' performance was reflective of who he was as a person.
"He was exactly the way that character was," he noted. "One of the most important scenes was with the marching band where I don't know what the hell I am doing, and he is on the field and takes over for me. That was him. I never questioned anything about what he did. And he was able to do it differently each time, which is what I consider to be a great, great talent."
There's little doubt that Dreyfuss considered Thomas' passing a double blow, as #GlenneHeadly, who played his wife in Mr. Holland's Opus, died just over two months ago.
Most recently, Thomas hosted his own radio show on #SiriusXM, The Jay Thomas Show, where he brought his brand of humor and storytelling. He was an underrated performer with a great sense of humor and reportedly a big heart. He died August 24 after a cancer battle.
Here he is as Bill Meister, helping his buddy Glenn Holland with the marching band: