Eddie Mekka, who played Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa on “Laverne & Shirley,” died on Saturday, Nov. 27, at his home in Newhall, Calif. He was 69 years old.
On Thursday morning, Mekka’s official Facebook account shared the news. There was no mention of a cause of death, only that he “went away peacefully.”
On “Laverne & Shirley,” Ragusa was the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Cindy Williams’ character Shirley Feeney. On the show, he was known as “The Big Ragoo,” and he was a part-time fighter who operated a dance studio and aspired to be a dancer and vocalist. In the climax, Johnny auditions for “Hair” on Broadway, achieving a lifetime ambition.
Mekka starred in 150 episodes of the ABC sitcom, which aired from 1976 to 1983. “Laverne & Shirley” was the most-watched show on television from 1977 to 1979, reaching a peak of 23 million households in the United States.
He was born on June 14, 1952, in Worcester, Massachusetts, and worked at the Worcester County Light Opera as well as teaching singing classes. Prior to relocating to Los Angeles, he received a Tony nomination in 1975 for his performance as the lead in “The Lieutenant” on Broadway. His first notable part was in “Laverne & Shirley,” and he later appeared in “Blansky’s Beauties.” Garry Marshall devised both shows as spinoffs of “Happy Days,” in which Mekka appeared twice as Ragusa.
Mekka worked steadily from the 1970s through the 2010s. “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Family Matters,” “Guiding Light,” “24,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” and two “Laverne & Shirley” TV specials were among his other credits.