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Happy Days Star Al Molinaro Passes Away at Age 96

By B. Alan Orange — October 31st, 2015

Sad news for classic TV fans today. Albert Francis 'Al' Molinaro has passed away at the age of 96. Best known as Al Molinaro, the actor played Al Delvecchio on the 70s sitcom Happy Days, where he was the proud proprietor of Arnold's Diner. Molinaro succumbed to complications from gall stones. The news was reported by his son, Michael Molinaro.

Al Molinaro joined the cast of Happy Days in Season 4, taking over for Pat Morita, who played Arnold, the original owner of the local Malt shop. Al was a series regular through Season 9 and was even featured in the opening credits. He stayed for Season 10 and Season 11, but he only occasionally appeared as a guest star in those final two years. On the sitcom, the comedic actor also played Al's twin brother priest Father Anthony Delvecchio, and it was said that he also had a brother who worked at the sanitation department. Al Delvecchio had a quite storied history on Happy Days. The drive-in owner and cook eventually married Chachi's mother. He had a sighing catchphrase of "Yep-yep-yep-yep...". For much of the series Al talked about his former love Rosa Coletti and how she left him for a tie salesman. Eventually Al would meet Rosa again in the eighth season.

While Happy Days was a career highlight for Al Molinaro, he was a prolific television actor. He has 26 credits to his name, having appeared in such classic sitcoms as Get Smart, Green Acres and Bewitched. He would come out of retirement for a role in the 90s sitcom The Family Man. And he would reprise his iconic role as Al in the 1994 music video 'Buddy Holly' for Weezer, which also repurposed footage from the original show.

Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Al Molinaro was a first generation American born to Italian immigrants Raffaele and Teresa Molinaro. He made the long trek to Hollywood in the 1950s, hoping to make a name for himself as an actor. He quickly secured some choice bit parts. But it was producer Garry Marshall who gave him his biggest break, casting him in an episode of The Odd Couple. His part in that show would directly lead to him being hired for Happy Days, once Pat Morita decided he wanted to leave after Season 3.

While he would go onto appear in a number of TV movies, he never wanted to bring his act to the big screen. He felt motion pictures were too 'profane'. He refused to act in any movie that used a four-letter word. He acknowledged that this kept him away from the feature film world. But he never seemed bothered by this artistic and very personal choice.

Having hailed from Wisconsin, his Midwestern sensibilities were perfect for the Milwaukee set Happy Days. After he retired from acting, he became involved in a chain of diners called Big Al's, which was modeled after his establishment on the show. Aside from his appearance in the 'Buddy Holly' music video, his last appearance was on an episode of Step by Step in 1992. Al Molinaro is survived by his son Michael, his wife Betty Molinaro, and his three grandchildren.

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