Horshack Not Laughing at 'Welcome Back, Kotter' Remake

ByABC News
March 15, 2006, 12:50 PM

March 15, 2006 — -- A little quiz for fellow Sweathogs out there: If you know what part Ron Palillo wants to play in Ice Cube's new version of "Welcome Back, Kotter," raise your hand and start shouting "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!"

Palillo shot to fame nearly three decades ago as the nasal-voiced nerd Arnold Horshack on the '70s TV show that featured Gabe Kaplan as a Brooklyn high school teacher and John Travolta as the ringleader of those troublemaking misfits, the Sweathogs.

In the new adaptation, announced this week by Dimension Films, Ice Cube will take on Kaplan's role. It's the latest in a wave of big-screen versions of TV chestnuts.

Among the signs that Hollywood has officially run out of ideas: Travolta is now in talks to star in Larry Hagman's old role as J.R. Ewing in an update of "Dallas," while Jessica Alba is said to be considering a turn in Barbara Eden's harem outfit for an all-new "I Dream of Jeannie."

At 56, Palillo is too old to play a Sweathog, but he laughs at the prospect of making an appearance in the film.

"I think I should play Mr. Woodman," he says, referring to the curmudgeonly principal who was perpetually an inch away from expelling Barbarino and the boys.

In recent years, Palillo has turned his attention to writing. His first original play, "The Lost Boy," opened last year at the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack, N.Y.

Of course, Travolta parlayed Barbarino into "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease" and superstardom. Palillo's post-"Kotter" career has been more akin to Travolta's "Look Who's Talking" nadir with stints in such fare as "Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI," "Snake Eater" and "Snake Eater II: The Drug Bust."

Palillo has cashed in on his 15 minutes of Horshack fame. On "Celebrity Boxing 2," he fought the actor who played Screech on "Saved by the Bell" -- and lost. He also made an appearance in David Spade's "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star."

But Palillo has moved on. He has officially retired his ultimate crowd-pleaser, the Horshack laugh -- a gag that has haunted him for years.

"You know where that came from?" he says. "When I was 10 years old my dad died of lung cancer. And the last week he was alive the only way he was able to breathe was by making that noise.