Set in a Boston dive bar where “everybody knows your name,” the hit comedy Cheers ran on NBC for eleven seasons. And though it’s been 40 years since it ended, it remains one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time.
Debuting on NBC on September 30, 1982, we were introduced to the locals who meet up at a Boston bar named “Cheers” regularly to drink, relax and socialize. Almost cancelled after its first season due to poor ratings, Cheers eventually won over audiences with its relatable and hilarious conversations, thoughtful attention to social issues and beloved characters. The show went onto air 275 episodes.
The final episode, aired on May 20, 1993, was watched by nearly 100 million people, making it one of the most-viewed single TV episodes of all time.
Over its beloved run, the Cheers cast and crew earned many awards including 28 Primetime Emmy Awards and six Golden Globes.
Who was in the original ‘Cheers’ cast?
Viewers loved watching the antics of the bar’s staff and patrons, and felt as if the characters were their friends. The original ensemble included Ted Danson as Sam Malone, Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli, John Ratzenberger as Cliff Claven, George Wendt as Norm Peterson and Nicholas Colasanto as Coach Ernie Pantusso, who was replaced by Woody Harrelson as not-so-bright Woody Boyd in season four, due to Pantusso’s passing.
Other notables who took up residence in Cheers included Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane, Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin and Kirstie Alley, who joined the cast after Shelley Long’s departure from the show, as Rebecca Howe.
The show was also filled with notable guest stars who ran the gamut from Tom Skerritt to Johnny Carson, Alex Trebek, Harry Connick Jr., John Cleese, The Righteous Brothers and even the Mayor of Boston, Raymond Flynn.
Who in the ‘Cheers’ cast has passed away?
Sadly, some Cheers cast members have passed away, including Nicholas Colasanto, Roger Rees, Jay Thomas and, most recently, Kirstie Alley — and we’ll certainly be pouring out drinks in their honor.
Here’s a look at what the surviving cast of Cheers has been up to since leaving our favorite watering hole.
Ted Danson as Sam Malone
Born Edward Bridge Danson III in San Diego, California, Ted Danson had a meteoric rise to fame playing the womanizing Sam Malone. He received two Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globe Awards for the role. “I was so blessed,” he has said. “Everything I do is because of the popularity of that show.”
Surprisingly, Danson didn’t think he was right for the role at first. As he recalled in an interview, “I didn’t have that arrogance in me. I didn’t know the bar guy. I never went to bars.” Ultimately, when it came to his iconic character, “It took me a year of realizing millions of people were watching me and judging me more than I was judging myself, and I wasn’t going to be able to please them all so I had to lighten up.” Danson spent two weeks at a bartending school in Burbank, California as part of his training to play Sam.
Danson made his film debut in the 1979 drama The Onion Field, and went on to act in movies like Body Heat, Three Men and a Baby and Saving Private Ryan. Beyond his acting career, he is also recognized for his activism in ocean conservation, and even co-authored a book on the subject. He has been married to actress Mary Steenburgen for 28 years.
Steenburgen first thought Danson would be “superficial and slick” based on his Cheers character, but thankfully, this turned out not to be the case. Cheers wasn’t Danson’s only TV role — more recently, he starred on the beloved series The Good Place, and has made memorable appearances playing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli
Rhea Jo Perlman was born in Brooklyn and studied drama at Hunter College in New York. She played Carla Tortelli, the surly, wisecracking waitress at Cheers. Her family moved to LA in the mid 1980s and her dad, Phil, became an extra on the show.
Cheers was truly a family affair for Perlman — her younger sister, Heide, also wrote and produced a number of episodes. Perlman has been married to fellow actor Danny DeVito since 1982 (they first started dating way back in 1971), though they have separated but remain close friends. Perlman and DeVito have acted together in a variety of shows and movies over the years, including Taxi, Matilda and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Perlman has spoken fondly of her Cheers character, remembering, “Carla was always bursting in… She’d be bursting in to complain, she’d be bursting in to beat up Norm, she’d be bursting in for whatever it was. Her life was not simple, and she carried whatever was with her right into work. I just remember it being very energetic.”
Shelley Long as Diane Chambers
Shelley Long played Sam’s sophisticated on-and-off romantic interest, Diane Chambers, on Cheers for 123 episodes. She received five Emmy nominations, winning in 1983 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She also brought home two Golden Globe Awards for the role.
Leaving Diane behind after five seasons, the versatile actress went on to play Carol Brady in the ’90s Brady Bunch movies, and starred in comedies like Hello Again, The Money Pit and Troop Beverly Hills. She and her Cheers co-star George Wendt reunited in the 2012 Christmas movie Merry In-Laws, and she’s also appeared in the popular show Modern Family.
While some criticized Long for her decision to leave Cheers during its prime, she’s always spoken highly of her character, and in an interview she explained her choice: “I didn’t want to keep doing the same episode over and over again… It had been such a fresh and vital experience for me, and I didn’t want the character to become old and stale.” All in all, “Being on Cheers was a dream come true,” she said.
George Wendt as Norm Peterson
George Wendt was a constant presence in Cheers, playing outgoing bar regular Norm Peterson. The role earned earned Wendt six consecutive nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. After the door closed on Cheers, he starred in his own sitcom, The George Wendt Show, in 1995, but it never took off and was cancelled after just six episodes.
Wendt has acted in a number of films, including Fletch, Man of the House, and Forever Young. A die hard Chicago Bears fan, Wendt made numerous cameo appearances on SNL in the ’90s playing Bob Swerski, a Chicago superfan alongside Chris Farley and Mike Myers. More recently, Wendt competed on The Masked Singer as “Moose” but eventually was eliminated.
Kelsey Grammer Dr. Frasier Crane
Kelsey Grammer played the pompous psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane. He didn’t become a Cheers regular until season five, although he showed up a number of times in previous seasons. Frasier began as Diane Chambers’ love interest but got jilted at the altar. After Cheers ended, Dr. Crane became the focus of the spin-off Frasier, which moved his character from Boston to Seattle. The show ran for 11 seasons, from 1993 to 2004.
Over the years, Grammer appeared in numerous film projects and even provided the voice of Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons, but he will forever be remembered for his twenty year stint as Frasier in Cheers and its spin-off. Audiences truly can’t get enough of his signature character, as the good doctor will soon be returning in a Paramount+ reboot of Frasier. Grammer has fond memories of his claim to fame, and called Cheers “a celebration of the chosen family you have [that] happened to be set in a bar.”
John Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin
Born on April 6, 1947, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ratzenberger is best known for his iconic role as Cliff Clavin. His portrayal of the lovable and know-it-all mailman became a fan favorite and earned him widespread recognition and critical acclaim.
Interestingly enough, many fans may not realize that many of the random (and untrue) facts that Cliff Clavin offers up were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. “After a couple of years on the show they realized they could trust me not to mess it up,” Ratzenberger told Deseret News in 1993. “So little by little they’ve let me just sort of run off. Because I know when to stop … It’s easy to improvise comedy. It really is. But the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That’s a hard thing to learn.”
Following the conclusion of Cheers, Ratzenberger became known as the “Pixar Lucky Charm” for his collaboration with the renowned animation studio. He voiced a character in every Pixar film from their first feature, Toy Story (1995), to Cars 3 (2017), a streak that lasted for over 20 films. Notably, he voiced the character of Hamm the piggy bank in the Toy Story series, which became one of his most beloved and recognizable roles.
In addition to his work in television and animation, Ratzenberger has also appeared in numerous films, including Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and has lent his voice to various video games and animated TV shows.
Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd
First appearing in season four, Woody Harrelson played Woody Boyd, the lovable but not-so-smart bartender from Indiana. After Nicholas Colasanto, the actor who played the bartender Coach, died, the show’s creators decided not to replace him.
Instead, they brought in Harrelson as a new bartender, giving the actor his big break. Following this role, Harrelson initially worried he would be typecast forever, but that turned out to not be the case.
Since Cheers ended, Harrelson has starred in TV shows like White House Plumbers and True Detective. He’s also acted in all kinds of movies from biopics like The People vs. Larry Flynt to comedies like White Men Can’t Jump to blockbusters like The Hunger Games series.
Harrelson is married to his former personal assistant, Laura Louie, and the bohemian couple have three daughters who he lovingly refers to as “The Goddess Trilogy.” Like his Cheers co-star Ted Danson, Harrelson is a passionate activist for environmental causes, and has said “I’ve always had an intense relationship with nature.”
Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years. Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living. She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for Women, Elle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva. Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content. She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.