Amy Johnston, Actress in 'The Buddy Holly Story,' Dies at 66

THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, Amy Johnston, Gary Busey, 1978
Courtesy Everett Collection

Amy Johnston with Gary Busey in 'The Buddy Holly Story'

She played the rocker's girlfriend in the Gary Busey starrer and a woman with a thing for Vinnie Barbarino on 'Welcome Back, Kotter.'

Amy Johnston, who portrayed Cindy Lou, the girlfriend of Gary Busey's character in The Buddy Holly Story as the pioneering rock 'n' roller is first starting out, has died. She was 66.

Johnston died March 17 at her home in West Fork, Arkansas, after a long battle with cancer, her brother, Mark Suarez, announced.

Johnston made her onscreen debut in 1977 in a two-part episode of ABC's Welcome Back, Kotter titled "Barbarino in Love," in which she and John Travolta's character get together after the Sweathogs perform as the group Three Do's and a Don't in a talent competition.

Later, she landed a regular role as the wisecracking Mary Lee on the 1979 NBC college comedy Brothers and Sisters — a takeoff of Animal House starring Chris Lemmon — but the midseason series lasted only 12 episodes.

A native of La Jolla, California, Johnston also appeared on installments of Charlie's Angels, Cagney & Lacey and Highway to Heaven and portrayed a nun opposite Pam Dawber (Mork & Mindy) in a 1978 pilot for a series called Sister Terri that was not picked up.

In the early days of The Buddy Holly Story (1978) in Lubbock, Texas, Johnston's Cindy Lou (a fictional character) tries to dissuade Holly from pursuing a career in music and pushes him to go to college instead. (Not coincidentally, Holly's "Peggy Sue," which went to No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1957, was originally called "Cindy Lou.") Busey, of course, received a best actor Oscar nomination for his turn in the film.

Born on Sept. 22, 1954, Johnston attended Helix High School in Las Mesa, California, and fell in love with acting at the Old Globe theater in San Diego. In recent years, she taught drama at a college near her Arkansas home, her brother said.

Survivors also include her husband of 27 years, Steven, and her sisters, Judi, Wendy and Cindi.