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Philip Perlman, whose Emmy-winning daughter Rhea got him a job on a bar stool on the long-running sitcom Cheers, setting in motion a late-blooming second career as a character actor, has died. He was 95.
Perlman, who also showed up in several films with Rhea’s husband, Danny DeVito, died April 29 at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness, his daughter said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Philip Perlman appeared on more than 30 episodes of the hit NBC comedy Cheers, on which Rhea made an indelible mark — and reeled in four Emmy Awards — as the wisecracking waitress Carla Tortelli.
Perlman had made his living in the toy business. (Rhea fondly recalled once going with him to a warehouse that was filled with “lots of dolls’ arms and eyeballs.”) After he retired in the mid-1980s, he and his wife, Adele, moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to be closer to their daughters — Rhea’s sister, Heide Perlman, wrote and produced for Cheers and later The Tracey Ullman Show, Frasier and Kirstie — and their families.
“He was always enamored of show business,” said Rhea, who these days plays Chris Messina‘s mother on The Mindy Project, the Fox sitcom that could be moving from Fox to Hulu. “He was a huge movie and TV buff and knew every character actor on the planet. He once told Danny, ‘You know, I want to be in one of your movies and say, ‘Dinner is served.’ “
Perlman came to the set of Cheers in 1986 and, as his daughter tells it, “went up to [director] Jimmy Burrows and said, ‘Think I could be an extra?’ Jimmy said, ‘Sure! Anyone can sit at the bar.’ “
After regular Cheers barfly Al Rosen died in 1990, Perlman (as the character “Phil”) made the most of the chance to deliver the zingers that Rosen had been known for. And in one episode, Rhea got to splash water in her father’s face.
The father and daughter also worked together in Class Act (1992) and on a 2002 episode of the Frasier that was written by Heide and served as a sort of Cheers reunion.
“He had a unique acting style; he was completely unschooled.” Heide told THR. “We put together a reel of all his perfomances for his 90th birthday, and he really had great timing. He was extremely natural.”
Perlman, who was born in Poland, played a student in a community-college writing class taught by Billy Crystal‘s character in Throw Momma From the Train (1987), which starred DeVito. His character in the film, an upholsterer, has written a novel, 40 Yards of Naugahyde: A Girl and a Dream.
“Well, I wrote it just like I lived it,” he tells Crystal.
Perlman’s last onscreen appearance came in a 2006 episode of DeVito’s FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
“I’ve known him for more than 40 years,” DeVito told THR. “He was a helluva guy.”
In addition to his wife of more than 65 years and his daughters and DeVito, Perlman’s survivors include his daughter Heide Perlman, who wrote and produced for Cheers, The Tracey Ullman Show, Frasier and Kirstie, and grandchildren Lucy (an actress on Hulu’s Deadbeat), Jake, Ruby and Gracie.
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