From roles as “Marty Grossman” in the Showtime crime drama Ray Donovan to his Emmy Award-winning turn as “Jerry Gold” in the 1990s era sitcom Murphy Brown to his career-turning stint as “Remo DaVinci” in the Robin Williams-helmed comedy Mork & Mindy and a memorable role as “Eddie LeBec” on Cheers, Jay Thomas enjoyed a 38-year career as an actor.
That could have never happened thanks to a Big Ape in Jacksonville, and a career in radio that landed him in Charlotte and, eventually, at one of the biggest FM stations in the U.S. He also hosted a program on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Thomas died Thursday (8/24) at the age of 69, with his agent Don Buchwald confirming the news to the New York Daily News. Thomas had been fighting cancer and was living in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In a statement, Buchwald told the newspaper, “Jay was one of a kind, never at a loss for words and filled with so much fun and wonderfully wacky thoughts and behavior.”
Thomas’ career as a comic, actor and air personality began in Jacksonville, at WAPE-AM 690 “The Big Ape.” At WAPE, he hosted the nighttime shift.
By August 24, 1972, Thomas had jumped to Charlotte, where he became Program Director of Stan Kaplan’s Top 40 WAYS-AM 610. He then added WROQ-FM in Charlotte, a simulcast partner with WAYS.
That success led RKO Radio to lure Thomas to New York, where WXLO-FM “99X” then-VP/GM Erica Farber (now RAB President/CEO) signed up the successful programmer and air personality for a career-changing stint that ran from late September 1976 until July 1979.
That’s when Thomas landed his first sitcom role, on Mork & Mindy.
Farber recalls, “He left us to be on Mork & Mindy. When he joined us he studied acting and was so focused on that part of his career. I am heartbroken to hear of Jay’s passing. He was wild on the air and full of energy. When he moved to New York I even gave him some furniture to help him furnish his apartment. As a young manager, he was a challenge to manage … but an absolute joy! His name will always bring a smile to my face.”
He later appeared on episodes of Family Ties and Spenser: For Hire while hosting the morning show at WKTU-FM 92.3 in New York. This was following a short stint at WXKS-FM “Kiss 108” in Boston.
With WKTU’s shift right before the 1985 Live Aid concert to WXRK “K-Rock,” Thomas’ career as a radio host was in transition. By early 1986, he’d resurface as a “morning zookeeper” at KPWR-FM “Power 106” in Los Angeles, which Emmis had just switched from AC KMGG-FM “Magic 106.”
Then came a star turn, in 1987, on Cheers.
Ken Levine, who created the “Eddie LeBec” character with partner David Isaacs while serving as a writer on Cheers, was a friend through radio: Levine was known on-air as “Beaver Cleaver” in the 1970s at former Top 40 KTNQ “Ten-Q” in Los Angeles.
In a blog post, Levine said, “Very few disc jockeys are able to make the transition from radio to a successful acting career. Bob Crane, Dick Van Dyke, Robert David Hall, Rick Moranis, a few others. It required talent and a lot of work. Jay threw himself completely into any endeavor he undertook. I always admired him for that.”
Thomas was still at Power 106 well into the 1990s, competing against Scott Shannon for a second time; Shannon was at KQLZ-FM “Pirate Radio” in L.A. from March 1989 and at WHTZ-FM “Z100” in New York while Thomas was at ‘KTU.
Thomas exited Power 106 in 1992, when the station took a more hip-hop approach, shed its freestyle dance image, and brought in The Baka Boyz for morning drive.
Most recently, Thomas was a talk host on Howard 100 and Howard 101, the uncensored adult talk channels on SiriusXM where Howard Stern’s programs can be found.
Thomas was born Jon Thomas Terrell. He passed away alongside his wife Sally, and his three sons, Sam, Jake, and J.T.