Edd Byrnes, a veteran actor best known for his role as television host Vince Fontaine in the musical Grease and as Kookie in the classic TV series 77 Sunset Strip, has died. Reportedly, Byrnes passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica. According to the report, Byrnes died of “natural causes,” though no additional information or cause of death has yet been revealed. He was 87 years old.
A native New Yorker, Byrnes was born Edward Byrne Breitenberger in 1932. He changed his name to “Byrnes” as a teenager to honor his grandfather, Edward Byrne, giving him the familiar Edd Byrnes name. In his early 20s, Byrnes began acting in plays at the Litchfield Community Playhouse in Connecticut, sparking an interest in acting and launching a career in the field. After about a year of performances on stage, Byrnes moved to Hollywood to pursue acting work full time.
By the mid ’50s, Byrnes was landing a variety of movie and television roles. One of his most recognizable roles came during this time when Byrnes was cast on the classic TV series 77 Sunset Strip, which premiered on ABC in 1958. Created by Roy Huggins, the private detective drama featured Byrnes as wise-cracking aspiring PI Gerald Kookson III, better known to viewers as “Kookie.” The role turned Byrnes into a bit of a teen idol, and at one point, the actor was getting flooded with as many as 15,000 fan letters per week and his face was plastered on dozens of magazines.
Following 77 Sunset Strip, Byrnes sought to shed his hipster image by taking on more serious roles. He developed a pilot for a TV series based on the Elvis Presley movie Kissin’ Cousins, though it didn’t get a series order. Byrnes later worked on many spaghetti westerns, such as Renegade Riders and Red Blood, Yellow Gold. Working regularly on television as well, Byrnes consistently appeared on television, even hosting the pilots of the popular game show Wheel of Fortune.
Of course, Byrnes is also very well known for his memorable role in Grease as Vince Fontaine, the host of a television dance show reminiscent of American Bandstand with Dick Clark. The success of the movie led to more castings for Byrnes, who went on to appear in several more movies including Twirl, Erotic Images, Mankillers, and Troop Beverly Hills. He had many guest spots on television shows as well, including roles on Murder, She Wrote, CHiPs, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Rags to Riches, and Married… with Children.
Byrnes’ survivors include his longtime partner, Catherine Gross, and his son, San Diego news anchor Logan Byrnes. “He was an amazing man and one of my best friends,” Logan said of his father’s passing on Twitter. At this time, our thoughts are with him and everyone else affected by Byrnes’ sudden passing. With his contributions as an entertainer, Byrnes has ensured his legacy will live on forever, and he will definitely be missed. May he rest in peace. This news comes to us from The Hollywood Reporter.