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Mork & Mindy Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

No TV sitcom had ever taken America by storm quite the way "Mork & Mindy" did when it first debuted on ABC in 1978. The story of an alien from the planet Ork, first seen in a guest appearance on long-running hit "Happy Days," who's taken in by a wholesome young woman (played by Pam Dawber) after his egg-shaped starship lands in Colorado, "Mork & Mindy" rocketed to the top of the ratings, becoming the third most-watched show on TV during its first season. The key to its success: casting then-unknown Robin Williams, a comedic powerhouse whose improvisational skills and irresistible personality made Mork a pop culture phenomenon.

Although unnecessary network meddling (including firing half the cast and moving the series to a different night) caused the show's popularity to drop down to Earth fairly quickly, "Mork & Mindy" remains a beloved pop-culture milestone. Sadly, since the show's cancellation in 1982, numerous key members of the cast have passed away, and tragically, that list is topped by Robin Williams himself.

Williams, of course, catapulted from sitcom success to the big screen, going on to star in several comedy classics, including "Mrs. Doubtfire," the original "Jumanji," "The Birdcage," and "Aladdin," as well as acclaimed dramas such as "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "Good Morning, Vietnam," "The Fisher King," and "Good Will Hunting," for which he earned an Academy Award. His death at age 63 in 2014 from suicide after he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, as chronicled in this moving article by his widow Susan Schneider Williams, shocked and saddened generations of fans who had grown up on Williams' gentle, yet manic comedy. The loss of Robin Williams was a profound one.

Tom Poston - Mr. Bickley

Robin Williams was not the only comedy legend who appeared on "Mork & Mindy." Tom Poston may not be as much of a household name, but his face is recognizable to anyone who watched TV from the 1950s until his death in 2007 at the age of 85. According to The New York Times, his career began on the stage and with small roles on television. But Poston's big breakthrough came on "The Steve Allen Show," a forerunner of "The Tonight Show." Poston became a recurring player on the show, delighting audiences with his hilarious interviews as characters that host Steve Allen was supposedly spotting in his "man on the street" segments. Poston also became a mainstay as a celebrity panelist on game shows, including "What's My Line?," "Match Game," and "To Tell the Truth."

Poston joined the cast of "Mork & Mindy" in Season 2, playing the duo's grouchy downstairs neighbor, Mr. Bickley. Over the course of the series, Mork and Mindy are able to soften Mr. Bickley's hard edges and he grudgingly accepts them as friends. After the show's cancellation, Poston quickly found work in the cast of "Newhart," playing a character that was diametrically opposite from Mr. Bickley — kind-hearted, simple George Utley, the caretaker of the inn where the series was set. "Newhart" lasted eight seasons, running from 1982 to 1990 on CBS.

Poston continued appearing frequently on TV for the rest of his life, including long runs on "Grace Under Fire" and "Committed," as well as guest appearances on dozens of shows, from comedies like "That '70s Show" and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" to dramas such as "ER" and "The Lone Gunmen." Chances are, someone somewhere is watching an episode of television featuring Tom Poston right now.

Elizabeth Kerr - Cora

When Mork moved in with Mindy, her father Fred (Conrad Janis) was not happy. But Mindy's grandmother Cora, on the other hand, found Mork delightful, and when he eventually revealed his secret identity as an alien to her during a Season 1 episode, she saw it as another reason why Mork was so special. Bringing life to Cora was actress Elizabeth Kerr, who was equally effective at scenes with enormous pathos (such as when Mork disguised himself as an old man wooing her to make Cora feel less lonely) as well as sharp comedy, including her rapid-fire insults of Mindy's stick-in-the-mud dad, whom she called "Fredzo." When ABC fired Kerr and Janis after the first season, fans were baffled and ratings went down, forcing the network to bring Kerr back into the cast the following season.

Born in 1912, Kerr made her Broadway debut in the play "Angel in the Pawnshop" in 1951, prompting one newspaper to headline an article, "Grandma Reaches Broadway." A string of small roles in films and TV shows followed, including episodes of "The Betty White Show," "The Six Million Dollar Man," and "Police Story," before her big break came on "Mork & Mindy." After that, she went on to more guest appearances on shows like "Punky Brewster," "St. Elsewhere," and "Highway to Heaven." Kerr's final onscreen role was in the Al Pacino-Michelle Pfeiffer romance feature film "Frankie & Johnny" in 1991. Elizabeth Kerr died in 2000.

Robert Donner - Exidor

To say Robert Donner had a successful career as a working actor would be an understatement. Although you might not know him by name, Donner has a staggering 145 acting credits to his name on his IMDb page, starting with a brief role in the 1959 Western classic "Rio Bravo." His movie career went on to span roles in such well-known titles as "The Nutty Professor," "Cool Hand Luke," "Vanishing Point," "High Plains Drifter," and "Damnation Alley." At the same time, Donner amassed an eye-popping array of TV roles, including episodes of "I Spy," "Rawhide," "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "Ironside," "Columbo," "Kung Fu," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "S.W.A.T.," "Charlies Angels," and recurring roles on "Adam-12" and "The Waltons." And that was all before he turned a guest shot on "Mork & Mindy" into a recurring role that lasted 22 episodes.

Exidor was a unique character who instantly accepted Mork as an alien from outer space, in part because he already had a host of friends who were either real but invisible or (more likely) existed only in his imagination. While the rest of the "Mork & Mindy" supporting cast functioned largely as straight men and women to react to Robin Williams' out-there comedy, Donner's Exidor was equally outrageous and the perfect partner in crime for Mork.

After "Mork & Mindy," Donner continued to appear on television, in episodes of "The A-Team," "MacGyver," "Fame," "Murder, She Wrote," and many more. His final onscreen performance was in the 2006 Luke Wilson-Brie Larson movie "Hoot," and he passed away that same year. But for many, Robert Donner will always be remembered as the eccentric Exidor, Mork's funny friend.

Jay Thomas - Remo

The first TV show on which Jay Thomas ever appeared was "Mork & Mindy," joining the cast in Season 2 as Remo, the owner of the local deli who befriends Mindy and Mork. But that was hardly the last high-profile show that Thomas appeared in. Five years after the cancellation of "Mork & Mindy," Thomas scored a recurring role on Seasons 5 through 7 of the long-running megahit "Cheers," on which he played Eddie LeBec, the boyfriend — and later, husband — of Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) before the character's sudden Zamboni-related death.

Two years after, Thomas jumped into another big hit, joining "Murphy Brown" in the recurring role of Jerry Gold, Murphy's antagonist turned love interest, during that show's 2nd season. The role earned Thomas an Emmy Award (via the Chicago Tribune) and led to his starring role on the sitcom "Love & War," which ran for three seasons on CBS during the '90s. Thomas also played the Easter Bunny in two sequels to "The Santa Clause," had a supporting role in the feature "Mr. Holland's Opus," and was in episodes of many TV shows, from the '80s ("Golden Girls," "Family Ties"), through the '90s ("Cybill," a recurring role on "Hercules"), into the '00s ("Law & Order: SVU," "Joan of Arcadia") and the 2010s ("Bones," "NCIS: New Orleans"). His final role was on an episode of "Ray Donovan" (his second episode of that show) in 2017, before his untimely passing from throat cancer that year at the age of 69.

But there was even more to Thomas' career because millions also knew his voice as a top-rated radio disc jockey in New York City, Los Angeles, and toward the end of his life, on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. He also became an annual guest of David Letterman, appearing on his late-night show every year around Christmas to toss a football with the host — a tradition that started back in 1998, according to NOLA.com.

Jonathan Winters - Mearth

Of all the comedy all-stars who appeared on "Mork & Mindy," only one was legendary enough to have actually been an idol to Robin Williams himself, and that's Jonathan Winters. An Emmy and Grammy-winning comedian, actor, and author, Winters was known for his unstoppable comic energy, his brilliant facility for improvisation, and his original, creative characters. His work was often cited by Robin Williams as an inspiration, so it was no surprise when he joined the cast of "Mork & Mindy" for Season 4, following a guest appearance (as a different character) in Season 3.

Winters gained fame in the 1960s for his stand-up comedy albums and talk show appearances, eventually headlining his own primetime variety series and starring in the landmark film "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Later in life, he co-starred on the sitcom "Davis Rules," wrote books of short stories, and infiltrated children's consciousness by voicing Grandpa Smurf on the classic '80s cartoon "The Smurfs."

His role on "Mork & Mindy" was one of the more unique of a very unique career. For the 4th season, with ratings falling, producers decided to have Mork and Mindy marry and have a child. But because things work a little differently with people from Ork, who age backward, Mork was the one who became pregnant and hatched an egg — and out of the egg emerged Jonathan Winters as Mearth (named after the planet Mork adopted as his home). It was a fitting character for the childlike Winters and an opportunity for Winters and Williams to riff with one another to the delight of their fans. Winters died in 2013 at the age of 87.

Ralph James - the voice of Orson

There was one prominent "Mork & Mindy" character whom the audience never saw. But Mork's stern boss Orson was heard by audiences at the end of every episode, his booming voice responding to Mork's reports about life on Earth. In fact, the words "Mork calling Orson," spoken by Robin Williams weekly, became one of the many catchphrases spawned by the show, and fans loved hearing Mork's hilarious descriptions of what Orson (unseen by audiences but seen by Mork) looked like.

The man behind Orson's booming voice was Ralph James, a veteran performer who had already lent his voice to cartoons like "The Pink Panther," "The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat," "The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour," and as Mr. Turtle in a widely seen series of Tootsie Pop commercials. James also appeared on screen in episodes of "Gunsmoke," "Laverne & Shirley," "Kojak," and other TV shows, as well as with William Shatner in the movie "Big Bad Mama."

After playing Orson, James continued his prolific voice acting career with characters on "Spider-Man" (the 1980s cartoon iteration), "Plastic Man," "Yogi's Space Race," and, of course, as Orson in a Saturday morning cartoon version of "Mork & Mindy." He died in 1992 at the relatively young age of 67. But his voice lives on in "Mork & Mindy" reruns, along with the manic comic energy of Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, and so many of their talented co-stars.