Laverne & Shirley star Eddie Mekka, who played the latter’s boyfriend, Carmine Ragusa, died at the age of 69 on November 27, 2021 from, at this point, unknown causes. Born June 14, 1952 in Worcester, Massachusetts, he always displayed a talent for singing, acting and dancing, and by the early 1970s, was head of the Worcester County Light Opera, where he taught young people how to sing.
Performing on stage in largely musicals, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Broadway’s The Lieutenant, after which he moved to Los Angeles where, in 1976, he was cast as Carmine (nicknamed “The Big Ragoo”) on Laverne & Shirley, which was a spin-off of the long-running Happy Days and starred, respectively, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. Following the show’s cancellation in 1983, he made guest appearances on Moonlighting, The Munsters Today, Family Matters, California Dreams, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and, most recently, Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve always been a song and dance man…Gene Kelly…Tony Bennett…I’m from the old fashioned school where you had to learn how to sing and dance and act and be funny,” Mekka explained to mediamikes.com. “You couldn’t just walk onto a television program overnight and then learn how to act. I’m from the old school where you had to learn it all first. Then you go out into the world and pay your dues. You did it the right way…that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Because once they find out you can do something special…that you can sing and dance…they try to incorporate that into your role. Besides, I love dancing. As long as I can walk I can dance and as long as I can talk I can sing.”
In that same interview, he reflected on how executive producer Garry Marshall was able to tap into his talents. “As the show progressed,” he said, “Garry sat down with me and asked me, ‘What else can you do?’ I told him I could sing and dance.’ ‘Yeah, let’s see.’ The following week in the show, Laverne tells Carmine that she’s trying to get Shirley to jump out of a bachelor cake for the Fonz. I tell her that I can’t get Shirley to do anything, but ‘she’s a sucker for my Tony Bennett [in a perfect Bennett impersonation], “You know, I go from rags to riches,”’. Well, the audience applauded and that was it.”
Eddie Mekka, who was born Rudolph Edward Makjian, was married twice, first to DeLee Lively (1983 until 1992) and then Yvonne Marie Grace in 1994, with whom he has a daughter named Mia.