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Joe E. Tata, who portrayed the endearing Peach Pit diner owner Nat Bussichio on all 10 seasons of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, has died. He was 85.
Tata died Wednesday night, his daughter, Kelly Katharine Tata, announced on a GoFundMe page. Earlier, she wrote that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018 and that he had been moved in April to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. A spokesperson for the Woodland Hills facility confirmed he died there.
In what has to be some kind of record, Tata played henchmen to three supervillains — Frank Gorshin’s the Riddler, Burgess Meredith’s the Penguin and Victor Buono’s King Tut — on the 1966-68 ABC series Batman.
He also appeared in the ’60s on a trio of Irwin Allen-produced sci-fi shows — ABC’s The Time Tunnel (once as Napoleon) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and CBS’ Lost in Space — and as bail bondsman Solly Marshall (and a few other characters) on NBC’s The Rockford Files in the ’70s.
He portrayed Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese in the 1974 CBS telefilm It’s Good to Be Alive (a biopic about teammate and catcher Roy Campanella) and New York Yankees southpaw Lefty Gomez in the 1978 NBC TV movie A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story.
During his 238-episode run on 90210 from 1990-2000, Tata’s Nat served a nice Mega burger and provided a wonderful hangout for the high school kids. He also suffered a near-fatal heart attack; partnered in the diner with Dylan (Luke Perry); turned the space next door to the Pit into an after-hours club; and exchanged wedding vows with onetime flame Joan Diamond (Julie Parrish) while she was in the hospital and about to give birth to their son, Frankie.
Tata returned as the diner owner for the series reboot in 2008 but worked little after that.
On Instagram, his 90210 co-star Ian Ziering called Tata “one of the happiest people I’ve ever worked with, he was as generous with his wisdom as he was with his kindness. Though the Peach Pit was a 90210 set, it often felt like the backdrop to the Joe E. Tata show.”
The son of a vaudevillian, Tata was born on Sept. 13, 1936. He served in the military and made his onscreen debut on a 1960 episode of Peter Gunn.
He went on to appear on such other shows as The Outer Limits, Gomer Pyle: USMC, No Time for Sergeants, Ben Casey, Hogan’s Heroes, Mannix, The F.B.I., The Streets of San Francisco, Police Story, The A-Team and Hill Street Blues before landing on 90210.
In a 2011 interview, he said he loved working on Batman and sometimes would go to the Fox lot where the show was filmed “and just hang around. It was as if I were a part of the company,” he recalled.
“One day I bumped into Stanley Ralph Ross, one of the writers on Batman. I had just been cast in another episode [‘Hizzonner the Penguin’/’Dizzoner the Penguin’] with Burgess Meredith. I said, ‘Stanley, do me a favor. If you ever write something I’m going to work in, could you please make me a goon? I mean, I always play a goon, but I want the audience to be able to actually see that I’m a goon.’ Stanley started to laugh and said, ‘Get outta here!’
“When I got the script for the Penguin story, I saw that I was playing — surprise, surprise — G.O.O.N. #1. I wore a black derby, a black turtleneck, a pair of black pants, black shoes and carried a black umbrella. However, across my chest in huge white letters was written G-O-O-N, [short for] the Grand Order of Occidental Nighthawks. That was the club that was going to destroy Batman.”
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