Years before his untimely death at 60 years old, Jeff Conaway struggled with severe back pain. According to pals, the Grease star’s trouble began when he injured himself during rehearsals for the 1972 Broadway show.
In, REELZ’s new docuseries Autopsy: Jeff Conaway, family members and close friends of Conaway give details about his final years, speaking of how his worsening medical condition ultimately led to his tragic death.
“He was fantastic,” says the actor’s sister, Carla Conaway Shreve, recalling the hit musical. “It was a great show.”
But the physical demands of the show had life-changing consequences for Conaway.
“Jeff got injured during Grease, where he would run and jump and drop down to his knees and slide across the floor on his knees,” says Conaway’s friend, Mark Mason.
“Once you have a back injury, you got a back injury for life,” adds his sister. “Jeffry was always moving and doing things. He was jumping up on the car, he was doing splits, so always reinjuring his back.”
After Grease, Conaway’s back issues continued.
“If you’ve ever thrown your back out seriously, it’s unbelievable,” says Andy Gallerani, Conaway’s childhood friend. “He just lived in chronic pain. “
“He was prescribed pain killers for his back and I know that he took them on a regular basis,” says Jay Gagerman, another of Conaway’s pals.
Conaway was sleeping on Gagerman’s couch when he accidentally overdosed and caught fatal pneumonia. He was the one who found Conaway unconscious and, along with the actor’s girlfriend, Vikki Lizzi, rushed him to the hospital.
Hunter explains that while “Jeff was using medication for what it’s supposed to be used for, it just became an ongoing thing that ultimately got out of hand.”
Autopsy: Jeff Conaway airs Sunday, March 17 at 8 ET / PT on REELZ.