Watching classic Happy Days spin-off Laverne & Shirley as a kid, I had a mad crush on Cindy Williams, or more specifically, her character of Shirley Feeney whom I thought hung the moon and the stars. The fact that her character was last billed in the show’s title only added to her underdog mystique and my seven year old self could see only one other alternative to me as a potential beau – Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa. On-again/off-again former high school sweethearts, they were the Maddie Hayes and David Addison of their era, with the question always looming in viewer’s minds of when they might finally consummate their star-crossed romance. It was to the good credit of the man who brought Carmine to life – consummate character actor Eddie Mekka – that I took the inevitable loss of Shirley Feeney on the chin; Mekka brought a goof-ball warmth to his portrayal of The Big Ragoo: You couldn’t help but root for the funny and thoughtful lug. Now that’s acting.
Eddie Mekka, my one-time rival for the affection of Shirley Feeney and a well-respected and Tony Award nominated actor, passed away this past Saturday at his home in Newhall, California, according to The Hollywood Reporter; He was 69 years old.
Eddie traveled far from his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts where he was born on June 14, 1952, but you get the hunch that the hometown boy who headed up the Worcester County Light Opera during the dawning of the 1970s never forgot his humble roots. Making his Broadway premiere in the 1975 “rock opera” The Lieutenant, Mekka walked away from that short tenure with a well-earned Tony nomination under his belt before heading into late 1950s Milwaukee-set Laverne & Shirley as the aforementioned Carmine Ragusa, where he equipped himself well for eight fun-packed seasons before the series headed off into the sunset.
In a statement today Cindy Williams had this to say about her former dance partner (Whom she worked with again in a touring stage production of Grease in the 2000s): “I love you dearly. I’ll miss you so much. But oh the marvelous memories…”
We’ll all miss Eddie Mekka, a true mensch and a genuine pop culture icon. And in regards to his character ultimately winning the hand of Shirley Feeney – borrowing a line from Paul Newman in Road to Perdition: “I’m glad it was you.”
Rest well, Eddie. You’ll not be forgotten.