Nicholas Colasanto was born Jan. 19, 1924 in Providence, R.I. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was awarded medals for his service. When he returned from war, Nicholas became an accountant for an oil company.
Legend has it he was bitten by the acting bug at age 28 when he saw legendary leading-man Henry Fonda perform on stage. Nicholas took a chance and joined a theater company in Phoenix, Arizona. From there, he went back to the East Coast, to New York City and acted in off-Broadway productions. Eventually, Nicholas earned a little money when he landed a commercial for laundry soap. In 1965, he traveled to Hollywood, got into directing and continued to act as well. 1960's and 70's directing credits include episodes of Bonanza, Columbo, S.W.A.T., ChiPs, Starsky and Hutch and Logan's Run. His TV acting credits during the same period included I Spy, My Favorite Martian, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Kojak, Baretta and Lou Grant. In 1980 he played mob boss Tommy Como in the much-lauded film Raging Bull.
Though accustomed to dramatic roles, in 1982 Nicholas was cast in the comedic role of Ernie "Coach" Pantusso, the trusting, absent-minded and lovable bartender on Cheers. He earned an Emmy nomination for his work and stayed with the show until he died on Feb. 15, 1985.
Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso is Cheers' gullible and forgetful, yet wise and lovable, bartender. He was raised in an Italian-American family and dreamed of playing professional baseball. Coach was not much of a student -- as a child he attended parochial school, but he never quite made it to high school. Coach entered the workforce as a busboy, later joined the Navy and was stationed in Florida. He got a shot at his childhood dream and played for minor-league baseball teams. Coach moved on from playing the sport and began coaching it, landing a position with Pawtucket, the minor league team for the Boston Red Sox. He worked his way up and became third base coach. Coach was eventually fired from the team for not being hard enough on the players.
To say that Coach is well loved at Cheers is an understatement. Sam Malone, whom he knows and loves from his Sox days, is stationed behind the bar with him. Diane Chambers, whom he worships for her intellect, adores him equally as a father figure. Though sometimes a bit vacuous, Coach is an adept bartender and is most proud of his specialty drink, the 'Contikki Tiki.' He loves the bar so much that he works voluntarily on his days off; Cheers is truly a labor of love for the widower. When he met his wife Angela, it was love at first sight. The couple had only one child, Lisa. (Lisa makes one appearance at Cheers with a boorish fiance in tow.) Coach is struck by love one last time when he meets a widow, Irene Blanchard. He proposes marriage and she accepts. But when Irene wins a $2 million lottery jackpot, she backs out of the engagement.