Just 69 years old, Eddie Mekka — most famous as Laverne & Shirley's resident belter Carmina The Big Ragu Ragusa — died at his Newhall, California, home on November 27.
No cause was given.
A friend announced, "R.I.P. Big Ragu: It is with deep regret that we share with you the passing of our beloved Eddie Mekka. Eddie passed away peacefully in his Newhall, California home on Saturday, November 27, 2021. He was 69 years old. At this time, we do ask that all media inquiries be withheld during his family's time of grief and mourning. We welcome you to share your memories of Eddie and your condolences to his family on his fan page. Rest In Peace Eddie. We had some fun, my BCM Alumni. Thank you for having our pic, as your profile pic."
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on June 14, 1952, Mekka's big break came when he was appearing in a small production of an original musical called The Lieutenant. In 1975, money producers spotted it as part of a series of independent works and — even though it was a rock opera about the Vietnam War — took it to Broadway. While it did not enjoy a long run, The Lieutenant shocked observers when it picked up four Tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and, for Mekka, Best Actor in a Musical.
The exposure led to his TV debut in 1976 as Carmine, Shirley's big-hearted-big-voiced beau. He would play the part from 1976-1983, even after Shirley (Cindy Williams) left the series.
He also appeared as Carmine on two episodes of Happy Days (1977 & 1979), and played Joey DeLuca on the short-lived series Blansky's Beauties (1977).
Other TV assignments included The Love Boat (1979, 1981 & 1982), Fantasy Island (1979, 1980 & 1983) and a 1989 installment of Moonlighting.
His other big splash was a wild jitterbugging scene with Madonna (b. 1958) in his old co-star Penny Marshall's (1943-2018) film A League of Their Own (1992). Making many other TV appearances, Mekka also showed up in a small part in Dreamgirls (2006).
His last TV work was nearly 10 years ago, and his final film was 2018's Hail Mary!
With Eddie’s surprising death, Laverne & Shirley is running out of main cast members who are still with us. Counting two ladies and a gentleman who appeared in fewer than 100 episodes, here is how the show's cast stacks up:
Still with us:
Cindy Williams, 74 — Shirley for 158 episodes
Michael McKean, 74 — Lenny for 149 episodes
Leslie Easterbrook, 72 — Rhonda for 51 episodes
Carole Ita White, 72 — Big Rosie Greenbaum for 13 episodes
Ed Marinaro, 71 — Sonny for 11 episodes
No Longer with Us:
Phil Foster (1913-1985) — Frank for 148 episodes
Betty Garrett (1919-2011) — Edna for 97 episodes
Garry Marshall (1934-2016) — creator
Penny Marshall (1943-2018) — Laverne for 178 episodes
David L. Lander (1947-2020) — Squiggy for 156 episodes
Eddie Mekka (1952-2021) — Carmine for 150 episodes