Jay Thomas
Thomas at the 1992 Emmy Awards
Jon Thomas Terrell

(1948-07-12)July 12, 1948
DiedAugust 24, 2017(2017-08-24) (aged 69)
  • Actor
  • radio talk show host
Years active1979–2017
Sally Michelson
(m. 1987)
Children3, including J. T. Harding

Jay Thomas (born Jon Thomas Terrell;[1] July 12, 1948 – August 24, 2017) was an American actor, comedian, and radio personality. He was heard in New York from 1976–1979 on top-40 station 99X, and later on rhythmic CHR station 92KTU, and in Los Angeles beginning in 1986 on KPWR "Power 106", where he hosted the station's top-rated morning show until 1993. His notable television work included his co-starring role as Remo DaVinci on Mork & Mindy (1979–1981), the recurring role of Eddie LeBec, a Boston Bruins goalie on the downside of his career, on Cheers (1987–1989), the lead character of newspaper columnist Jack Stein on Love & War (1992–1995), and a repeat guest role as Jerry Gold, a talk-show host who becomes both an antagonist and love interest of the title character on Murphy Brown. He won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1990 and 1991 for portraying Gold.

In 1997, he starred in the television film Killing Mr. Griffin, based on the eponymous novel. In films, he co-starred in Mr. Holland's Opus (1995) as a high-school coach with a flair for theatrics, and portrayed the Easter Bunny in The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006).

He was also an annual guest on the Late Show with David Letterman during the Christmas season, where he told a story about how he met Clayton Moore, who portrayed the title character on The Lone Ranger.[2] Beginning in 2005, he hosted The Jay Thomas Show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio channel 94 comedy greats Monday through Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings on Howard 101.[3]

Early life and education

Thomas was born in Kermit, Texas, to Katharine (née Guzzino) and Timothy Harry Terrell.[4] He was raised in his Italian-American mother's Catholic religion; his father was Protestant.[5] Thomas was raised in New Orleans,[6] where he attended and graduated from Jesuit High School.[7] He went on to attend and graduate from Jacksonville University.[8] Thomas was the quarterback on his high-school football team and also quarterbacked in college, a skill he later used on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Letterman appearances

Thomas made annual Christmas appearances on David Letterman's CBS late night show, beginning in December 1998. Letterman and one of his other guests that evening, then-New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, took turns throwing footballs trying to knock a large meatball off the top of a Christmas tree at the other end of the stage. As the two took turns futilely attempting to knock off the meatball, Thomas came back out to join in the festivities, and promptly knocked the meatball from the tree.[9]

Beginning on a subsequent visit to Letterman's show, Thomas told a story about when he was a young disc jockey (around 1972) at WAYS 610 AM in Charlotte, North Carolina.[10] Thomas had been making a promotional appearance at a local Dodge dealership, which had also booked a personal appearance by actor Clayton Moore, best known as the Lone Ranger on television and in films; Moore appeared at the event dressed in his Lone Ranger costume.[9]

According to Thomas, he and his colleague Mike Martin, both clad in the hip fashion of the day (including tight jeans, tie-dyed shirts and their hair, which Martin wore long while Thomas himself sported what he called a "White Man's Afro"), had secretly gotten "herbed up" (smoked marijuana) several times throughout the day behind a dumpster. After the broadcast had ended and the crowd had left, while packing up their equipment, Thomas and Martin discovered that Moore was still there, as the car that was supposed to drive him back to his hotel never arrived; Thomas then offered Moore a ride in his own car, an old, decrepit Volvo, which Moore accepted.

While stuck in traffic, with Moore sitting quietly in the back seat, an impatient, middle-aged man backed his full-sized Buick into the front end of Thomas's compact Volvo, broke a headlight, and then drove off. An angry Thomas chased the Buick down Morehead Street weaving through heavy traffic and forgetting all about Moore still sitting quietly in his back seat. Thomas finally caught up to the man, blocked his Buick with the Volvo, and confronted him about the broken headlight. The indignant driver denied all; when Thomas threatened to call police, the man exclaimed, "Who do you think they'll believe? Me, or you two hippie freaks?" At that moment, Moore, still in costume as the Lone Ranger, stepped out of the Volvo, approached the man and said "They'll believe me, citizen!" The man, incredulous, exclaimed "I didn't know it was you!"[11]

For every year thereafter except 2013, Thomas appeared to repeat the Lone Ranger story, which Letterman called, "The best talk show story, ever", and once again attempt what Letterman would refer to as the "Late Show Quarterback Challenge". For his final appearance in December 2014, Thomas was again successful in knocking the meatball off the top of the tree. Thomas missed the 2013 Late Show Christmas episode due to throat surgery; John McEnroe took his place and told the Lone Ranger story, then tried, unsuccessfully, to knock the meatball off the tree by hitting tennis balls at it.[9]

Personal life

Thomas fathered J. T. Harding in an out-of-wedlock relationship, and the child was adopted by another family in Michigan. Thomas and his son spoke about their reunion on the Dr. Phil Show. Harding was the lead singer of the band JTX and is a country-music songwriter.[12]

Thomas married Sally Michelson in 1987. They had two sons, Samuel and Jacob.[13]


Jay Thomas died of throat cancer on August 24, 2017, surrounded by his family[14] in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 69.[15]


Year Title Role Notes
1979–1981 Mork & Mindy Remo DaVinci 20 episodes[1]
1981 The Love Boat Paul Harris Episode: "First Voyage, Last Voyage"
1984 Master of the Game Levy Television miniseries
1984 C.H.U.D. Cop in diner
1985 Spenser: For Hire Tony Broz Episode: "Discord in a Minor"
1985 The Gig Rick Valentine
1986 Legal Eagles Waiter
1986 The Park Is Mine TV Reporter
1987 Family Ties Jerry DiNello Episode: "Super Mom"
1987 A Year in the Life Scott Spenser Episode: "What Do People Do All Day?"
1987–1989 Cheers Eddie LeBec 9 episodes[1]
1988 Monkey Business Tedesco
1988 The Adventures of Ragtime Lester Waylin
1988 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Delivery Man Episode: "Justin Case"
1989 Almost Grown Unknown Episode: "Take It Slow"
1989 The Golden Girls Sy Ferber Episode: "High Anxiety"
1989 Freddy's Nightmares Stan Brooks Episode: "Dream Come True"
1989–1998 Murphy Brown Jerry Gold 9 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (1990–91)
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series(1989)[1]
1990 Miracle Landing Ed Meyer Television movie
1990 Open House Evan Gimbel 2 episodes
1990 Where's Rodney? Lou Barnes Television movie
1990 Little Vegas Bobby
1990–1991 Married People Russell Meyers 18 episodes
1992 Straight Talk Zim Zimmerman
1992 Batman: The Animated Series Guard 1 Episode: "The Forgotten"
1992–1995 Love & War Jack Stein 67 episodes[1]
1995 Cybill Jay Episode: "Zing!"
1995 Bless This House Ted Episode: "If It Ain't Broken, Break It"
1995 Mr. Holland's Opus Coach Bill Meister [1]
1996 A Strange Affair Eric McKeever
1996 Dirty Laundry Joey Greene
1996–1997 Ink Jack Stein 3 episodes
1997 Killing Mr. Griffin John Griffin Television movie
1997 A Smile Like Yours Steve Harris
1997 Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Disembodied Voice Episode: "Spy vs. Monster"
1997 Working Mr. Peyser Episode: "Lost Weekend"
1998 My Date with the President's Daughter Charles Fletcher Television movie
1998 The Simple Life Joel Campbell Episode: "Sara's Ex"
1998 The Adventures of Ragtime Lester Waylin
1998 Monkey Business Tedesco
1998 Last Chance Artie
1998–1999 Hercules Ares 6 episodes
1999 Stranger in My House Ray Young
1999 Katie Joplin Glen Shotz
1999 Fantasy Island Carl Harbin Episode: "The Real Thing"
1999 Dead Man's Gun Emil Kosar Episode: "The Good Chef"
1999 The Wild Thornberrys Bull Seal Episode: "Tamper Proof Seal"
1999 The Big Tease Tony Bolero Uncredited
2000 Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? Himself Host, TV special
2000 An American Daughter Timber Tucker Television movie
2001 Surfacing: AKA A Letter from My Father Tom
2001–2002 The Education of Max Bickford Jerry Zibowski 2 episodes
2002 Ed Gary Siringo Episode: "Small Town Guys"
2002 Monday Night Mayhem Pete Rozelle Television movie
2002 Dragonfly Hal
2002 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Joe Sherman Episode: "Vulnerable"
2002 The Santa Clause 2 Easter Bunny Cameo[1]
2003 Run of the House Bob Melman Episode: "Twas the Night Before Homecoming"
2004 Teacher's Pet Barry Anger Voice
2004 Joan of Arcadia Obnoxious Investor at Spa Episode: "Recreation"
2006 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause Easter Bunny [1]
2007, 2010 American Dad! Brett Morris 2 episodes
2008 Boston Legal Ian Hoberman Episode: "Happy Trails"
2009 The Pool Boys Marty
2009 Labor Pains Garth
2010 Cold Case Lance Katrola Episode: "One Fall"
2010 Sex Tax: Based on a True Story Charles Taylor
2010 Mysteries at the Museum Narrator 12 episodes
2011 Snatched Roger Byamm
2011 Horrorween Two Headed Monster
2011 Retired at 35 Mr. Jenkins Episode: "Workin' Man"
2011 Hung Sandee's father Episode: "The Whole Beefalo"
2012 Shake It Up Dan Gold Episode: "Copy Kat It Up"
2013 The Haunting of… Himself Episode: "Jay Thomas"
2013 Life Tracker Attorney General
2013 Underdogs Mike Mayhew
2013 The Trials of Cate McCall Loncraine
2013–2017 Ray Donovan Marty Grossman 5 episodes (his final role)
2015 NCIS: New Orleans Marc Maslow Episode: "Confluence"
2015 Bones Lenny Jay Episode: "The Promise in the Palace"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Elber, Lynn (August 24, 2017). "Jay Thomas, 'Murphy Brown' and 'Cheers' actor, radio host, dies at 69". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  2. ^ "It's Wouldn't Be the Holidays Without Jay Thomas' Lone Ranger Story". Animalnewyork.com. December 24, 2009. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
  3. ^ "Talk and Entertainment - Program Schedule". Sirius XM. Archived from the original on August 25, 2017. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  4. ^ "Jay Thomas profile". Filmreference.com. Retrieved September 20, 2014.
  5. ^ "Thomas hopes 'Love' will pave road". Tampa Bay Times. September 28, 1992. Retrieved June 20, 2014.[dead link]
  6. ^ "Famous People from New Orleans". Experience New Orleans. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
  7. ^ Massa, Dominic (August 24, 2017). "Actor Jay Thomas, Jesuit High School graduate, dies at 69". The New Orleans Advocate. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  8. ^ "Actor, DJ and Jacksonville University alumnus Jay Thomas dies at 69". The Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville. Associated Press. August 24, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2023.
  9. ^ a b c "Jay Thomas takes one more shot at David Letterman's Christmas-tree meatball". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans. December 18, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  10. ^ Bodson, Laurent (December 31, 2009). "Jay Thomas on Letterman.2009.12.23 - The 'Lone Ranger' Story". Archived from the original on December 21, 2021 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ Late Show (airdate December 19, 2014).
  12. ^ "Emmy Award-Winning Actor Discovers He Has a Son". Us Weekly. Archived from the original on August 15, 2008. Retrieved November 28, 2008.((cite news)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (August 24, 2017). "Jay Thomas, Actor on 'Murphy Brown' and 'Cheers,' Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  14. ^ Blistein, Jon (August 24, 2017). "'Cheers,' 'Murphy Brown' Character Actor Jay Thomas Dead at 69". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  15. ^ Niemietz, Brian (August 24, 2017). "Comic actor Jay Thomas is dead at 69". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 20, 2023.