Eddie Mekka (Rudolph Edward Mekjian, 1952-2021) was much more than “Carmine from Laverne and Shirley” of course, it’s just that when you say his real name everyone goes “Who?” and when you say his most famous role, people of a certain age will light up with recognition. That show was a smash hit, and so his was a very prominent face during those years — the kind of face you’d see in Tiger Beat or on posters in girls’ bedrooms. His character Carmine Ragusa (“the Big Ragu”) was an aspiring singer and boxer. Though he also did doo wop numbers, he was especially enthralled with Tony Bennett, and would trot out Tony’s early number “Rags to Riches” on the slightest provocation — it’s the first place I ever heard it.
Just prior to his TV break Mekka had been on Broadway in the shows Jumpers (1974) and The Lieutenant (1975). Before that, he ran the Worcester Light Opera Company in his Massachusetts hometown. While Laverne and Shirley was still on the air, Mekka made hay while the sun shone, appearing on Garry Marshall’s other shows Happy Days and Blansky’s Beauties, as well as the usual celebrity rotation of Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Circus of the Stars, and game shows like $10,000 Pyramid and Match Game. My friend Derek Davidson, from whom I learned the sad news, shared this 1980 photo of Mekka on Dance Fever with host Denny Terrio, Scatman Crothers and others.
When Laverne and Shirley was over, Mekka had bit parts in Garry Marshall’s Beaches (1989) and Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own (1992). Other credits included the movie Dreamgirls (2006) and guest shots on TV shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and ER. Mekka appeared in many small independent films and TV movies over the years, his last screen credit being a film called Hail Mary (2018). In between films he performed in lots and lots of live theatre.
Here’s some trivia for ya! My wife met him once about 20 years ago. It was a double date (he was dating her friend). Someone stole her purse and Mekka actually ran after the perp to retrieve it. He didn’t catch the guy. In later years, the former heart-throb gained weight, and as a type began to more resemble Phil Foster, who played Frank DeFazio, Laverne’s father. No cause of death has been given, but 69 is pretty young to go.
One last tidbit: the hairy-chested Mekka was not Italian like his famous character, but Armenian. Sorry, Italians!