Yesterday the actor Ron Palillio passed away. The show Welcome Back, Kotter was before my time but I had seen reruns on television with my mom when I was a kid. Growing up my mom would always do this ridiculous laugh just to annoy me and when I asked what it was she explained it was "The Horshack Laugh." It was sad to hear about Ron's passing for me because even though I don't even know the guy, he gave me one of my favorite Mom Stories ever.
This was about 15 years ago on my mother's birthday. It was a Saturday or a Sunday morning and my mom was laying in bed with the paper. I remember going into her room to ask her what the plans were for her birthday. I know for a fact she wanted to do something special but til this day I will never actually know because before she could answer me she read me the something from the morning paper. She said that Jeremy Bulloch was going to be at the County Fair right down the street from us signing autographs.
Name doesn't ring a bell? Well it did for me. Big time. That my friends, is the actor that played Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
And my mom knew this.
She encouraged me to go and see him because as she said "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity." And she's right, it was. A completely random but unique opportunity. Ever since I was a kid I was obsessed with Boba Fett and never being able to go to any sort of convention growing up this was my first ever chance to meet somebody that had anything to do with Star Wars. And of all people that could have been there it was fucking BOBA FETT. I kept asking my mom if it was okay for me to go and she kept pushing me and pushing me to go. I felt guilty being her birthday and all but she was insistent. She also noted that the actor who played Horshack was going to be there as well and all she said was that if I do meet Horshack to "ask him to do the laugh." That was it.
So I called up two of my friends and told them the awesome news. I don't even remember if I was driving yet at this point. I think my buddy Doug actually had to drive us which would put me at about 15 years old or so. My mom warned me ahead of time that it would cost money to not only get in but also to buy a photo for Mr. Bulloch to sign. I had absolutely nothing to my name but remembered I had a bunch of 2 Dollar Bills saved up that my Nana gave me every year. Not wanting to pay for a photo I decided to grab a Boba Fett action figure for him to sign. When we arrived I'll always remember paying the lady for my ticket with the 2 Dollar Bills and her just laughing at me. Not in a mean spirited way, but over the fact she never actually seen someone use them before.
Things get fuzzy here as I was in full on Boba Fett mode. From what I recall this was a very tiny event. There were no lines and it all took palce in a small room in one of the buildings. Apparently Boba Fett and Horshack aren't big enough names to bring out the big crowds.
But I was in heaven.
I remember my friend Ron and I standing in front of the table with the name plate "Jeremy Bulloch" on it. He was no where to be seen but there were glossy Star Wars photos strewn all over the table with price tags ranging from $20-50. Wowzers. Ron made a comment about one of the pictures with Fett and IG-88 and suddenly, out of nowhere, we hear a British voice come up from behind us, "That was an odd day, filming with IG-88..." or something along those lines. We started freaking about as Jeremy Bulloch told us tales of wearing the Boba Fett costume, Lucas being annoyed that IG-88's head wouldn't turn properly, and so on. Major geek revelations here. Afterward he tried to sell us on buying a photo so that he could sign it. I told him I didn't have enough money to buy one but that I brought a Boba Fett figure for him to sign. This is where I would love to say Jeremy was super awesome and gladly signed my figure. But he didn't. Something about a strict policy on only signing the photos that are purchased.
I was heart broken.
But Ron never took no for an answer, God bless him, and he explained to Jeremy Bulloch that I was the biggest Fett fan out there and that I was even missing my own mother's birthday to be there. He hesitated a bit but then graciously took the figure from my hand. He wrote "Jeremy Bulloch" on the inside of one of the legs and "Boba Fett" on the other leg. My dream had come true!
As we were walking by we saw Ron Palillio sitting at his booth, kinda chilling by his lonesome. I didn't really know what to say to him but figured it couldn't hurt to say Hi. He was super nice to us and was surprised someone my age had any sort of knowledge on Horshack and Welcome Back, Kotter in general. I explained my mom had shown me episodes as a kid and would always mock me with the Horshack laugh. My friend Ron pointed out that today was my mother's birthday. He looked around and asked where my mom was but I said she stayed home with my brother but that I should ask him to do the laugh. He searched through his bag and pulled out his cell phone which, back then, was like "Wow, this dude has a cell phone!" and he looked me dead in the eye and said, "What's your phone number?" I was dumbstruck but I gave him the number to my house and he dialed away. Holding the phone to his ear he gave me a quick look and asked for my mother's name.
"Patti," I replied.
His eyes perked up as my mom had obviously finally answered the phone and in his best Horshack voice said, "HELLO? Is this PATTI?"
"It's HORSHACK! I'm with your son! Happy Birthday!"
He proceeded to do his famous laugh over the phone to my mother. My friends and I just kinda sat back and watched. The conversation was brief and I don't remember all the details but I was so happy that he did that for her. Plus, as a teenager, this gave me bonus points for not spending the day with her. I couldn't afford an autograph but I thanked him endlessly for what he did. Returning home my mom was in hysterics, laughing, absolutely dumbstruck by the phone call she received. Her immediate thought was, "What did you do to that poor man?" as if I had to blackmail him or something to call.
He's not a huge celebrity by any means but when I heard of his passing it brought back this memory that I hadn't thought about in awhile. And it's a fantastic memory of her that shows what our relationship was like. I love Star Wars and she went out of her way, on HER special day, to make sure I got to meet one of my heroes. And 15 years after this event happened I STILL love Star Wars. Christ, I photoshopped myself into a picture with Boba Fett not even two days ago which now serves as my Facebook Banner.
The autograph itself has long faded away and as a teenager that drove me up the wall. I stupidly made it into a key chain that I hung out of my pocket and strutted around school showing it off. Cause ya know, there's nothing a high school girl loves more than a man with an action figure dangling from his pants.
But while the autograph is long since gone the memory remains and it's one of my favorite stories to tell people.