RIP Jay Thomas: Quintessential funnyman and storyteller

Jay Thomas enjoyed antics with David Letterman on more than one occasion. (Courtesy JayThomas.com)

Friends and colleagues are fondly remembering Jay Thomas, the good-natured comic actor from TV’s “Murphy Brown” and “Cheers.”

The sitcom co-star, 69, died of cancer, his agent Don Buchwald announced Thursday.

Thomas played obnoxious TV talk-show host Jerry Gold (and Candice Bergen’s boyfriend) on “Murphy Brown” from 1989-98 — winning two Emmys — after his stint as Rhea Perlman’s husband Eddie LeBec, a French-Canadian goalie, on “Cheers,” the Hollywood Reporter reported.

In his own sitcom “Love and War,” he played an egotistical sportswriter opposite Susan Dey, and later Annie Potts, from 1992-95. The show was created by “Murphy Brown’s” Diane English, who said on social media, “He was gifted. I would have loved to write another role for him.”

Thomas often played loud, sleazy types: On “Ray Donovan” he was Marty Grossman, the operator of a salacious TMZ-like website. In recent years, he was on “Bones” and “NCIS: New Orleans” and also hosted “The Jay Thomas Show” on SiriusXM.

For years, Thomas appeared on David Letterman’s show during the holiday season and told the same funny story about Clayton Moore, star of TV’s “The Lone Ranger.” He and Letterman also took turns throwing a football, trying to dislodge a meatball from the top of a Christmas tree.

In a 2014 interview, he called that gig “fun,” saying, “I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys on late-night talk shows who everybody wants to see. Like on [Johnny] Carson, when [Don] Rickles would come out. I became that guy. And I love football, so my two big dreams were totally realized.”

“I loved Jay,” Letterman said in a statement. “His Lone Ranger story was the best I heard in 30 years. Plus, nobody could throw a football like Jay. Maybe Tina Fey, maybe.”

On social media, Bryan Cranston called him “so damn funny and loud” and Christopher Titus called him “a hilarious blue collar guy.”

Thomas’ survivors include his wife Sally and sons Sam, Max and J.T. Harding, whom he gave up for adoption and connected with when Harding was 28.

When Harding learned, after he tracked down his biological mom, that his father was an actor on the show “Cheers,” Harding said, “For a minute I thought my biological father was Ted Danson. I was like, ‘I’m rich!’ ”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Actress Blake Lively is 30. … Actor Kel Mitchell is 39. … Actor Alexander Skarsgard is 41. Model Claudia Schiffer is 47. … TV chef Rachael Ray is 49.. … Singer Jeff Tweedy of Wilco is 50. … Musician Elvis Costello is 63. … Singer Rob Halford of Judas Priest is 66. … Bassist Gene Simmons of Kiss is 68. … Saxophonist Wayne Shorter is 84. … Actor Tom Skerritt is 84. … Talk-show host Regis Philbin is 86. … Actor Sean Connery is 87.

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