Edd Byrnes dies: Star Kookie on ’77 Sunset Strip,’ dies aged 87.
Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, the 77 Sunset Strip actor whose wavy hair and penchant for combing it made him an early TV teen idol, died Thursday of natural causes at his Santa Monica home, according to his son, San Diego TV news anchor Logan Byrnes. He was 87.
The actor was one of the guiding inspirations for director Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio, informing the Rick Dalton character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Byrnes came to attention as one of the stars of the detective show 77 Sunset Strip, which aired on ABC from 1958-64. Byrnes played Kookie, the rock ‘n’ roll-loving parking attendant who always was quick with a quip to his next-door neighbors at the detective agency. His striking good looks made him an instant hit with the teenagers of the late 1950s, culminating in a gold record with actress Connie Stevens, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb).” The song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1959.
Byrnes went on to play smooth dance contest host Vince Fontaine in the 1978 film version of Grease.
His “Kookie” fame proved to be limiting for the rest of Byrnes’s career. He was contractually prohibited from taking movie roles offered in Ocean’s Eleven, North to Alaska and Rio Bravo. That led to Byrnes leaving the 77 Sunset Strip show briefly, then returning when his absence caused an uproar. He came back in May 1960 no longer parking cars. Instead, he now was a partner in the detective agency.
Byrnes’ career was mixed following his 77 Sunset Strip heyday. He did spaghetti Westerns in Italy, and did a few pilots, including a just-miss on hosting Wheel of Fortune.
Byrnes also appeared in Reform School Girl (1957), Darby’s Rangers (1958), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Life Begins at 17 (1958), Up Periscope (1959), Yellowstone Kelly (1959), Beach Ball (1965), Michael Apted’s Stardust (1974) and Troop Beverly Hills (1989) and guested on TV shows including Cheyenne, Maverick, Honey West, Mannix, Adam-12, Police Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, Married … with Children and Murder, She Wrote.
He was married from 1962-71 to actress Asa Maynor, she played the stewardess in the famous Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner.
Along with his son and Maynor, Byrnes’ survivors include his longtime partner, Catherine Gross.