Actor Edd Byrnes, who became a Hollywood icon in the late-1950s, died at his home in Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2020 at age 87. Byrnes played the “Kookie” character in the “77 Sunset Strip” TV show an ABC TV detective drama starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as a hip L.A. private detective.
Byrnes’ character was Gerald Lloyd Kookson III, a jive-talking parking lot attendant with dreams of being a private investigator. When he wasn’t busy combing his hair and drag curl, Kookie often helped the series’ stars solve cases. He worked at Dino’s (which was actually Dean Martin’s lounge) near the fictional detective agency and drove a Ford Model T-Bucket hot rod. Viewers lusted to borrow his car and his comb.
“Kookie, Kookie, Lend me your comb!” was the name of a record that Byrnes released. Byrnes also co-starred in the 1978 movie version of "Grease." He played Dick Clark-inspired television teen-dance show host Vince Fontaine in the film.
The “Kookie Kar” that made “77 Sunset Strip” a hit with car-savvy fans started life as a $100 Model A Ford that the late hot rod guru Norm Grabowski purchased in 1952 and later bolted a ’22 Model T body to. The Kar started its film career in 1955, but the 1958-1963 TV show made it famous and inspired LIFE magazine to do a hot-rod issue that featured the Kookie Kar. Millions discovered how cool it was to drive a hot rod.
The original Kookie Kar is still in existence and was recently featured in Mecum Magazine. It had been extensively modified. It was sold at Mecum Auction’s 2018 Indianapolis sale. Hot Rod collector Ross Myers of the 3 Dog Garage in Boyertown, Pa., then sent the Kookie Kar to San Francisco for a full restoration by Roy Brizio Street Rods. Johnnie Overbay, the owner of Reno Rods & Customs in Oklahoma City, OK, also built a very exacting replica of the Kookie Kar that he displayed at SEMA years ago.
Logan Byrnes, a news anchor for KUSI-TV in San Diego, Calif., confirmed his father’s death on Facebook. Edd Byrnes may be gone, but his beloved Kookie persona introduced a host of early '60s slang into mainstream primetime culture and made the Ford T-Bucket an American hot rod hobby icon.