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Rhea Perlman's Iconic Role as Carla Tortelli on 'Cheers'
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Rhea Perlman is an acclaimed American actress best known for her iconic role as the wisecracking Carla Tortelli on the beloved sitcom Cheers, for which she won four Emmy Awards.

 

Perlman's Early Life and Education

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Rhea Perlman was born on March 31, 1948 in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Philip Perlman, was a Polish immigrant who worked as a manager at a doll parts factory, while her mother Adele was a bookkeeper. Perlman grew up in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn in a Jewish family with roots in Poland and Russia. She developed an early interest in theater and musicals as a child. Perlman went on to study drama at Hunter College in Manhattan, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968. Her sister Heide is a television writer and producer who has worked on shows like Cheers and Frasier.
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Perlman's Early Career on Stage

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Rhea Perlman began her acting career on stage in the 1960s and 1970s, performing with various theater companies and improv groups in New York City. She was a member of the renowned improvisational comedy troupe The Premise, alongside fellow actors Fred Willard and Gary Austin. Perlman honed her skills in improvisational comedy and character acting through her work with The Premise and other theater groups. Her breakout role came in 1972 when she was cast in the off-Broadway play Sesame Street Encounters, where she played a variety of eccentric characters. This led to her being hired as a regular performer on the children's television series Sesame Street from 1972 to 1976, playing roles like the Grouch Waitress. These early stage and television experiences helped establish Perlman's talent for portraying memorable, offbeat characters with sharp comedic timing.
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Early Stage and Film Roles

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Rhea Perlman's acting career began with small roles in the early 1970s:
  • Her first credited role was as an attendant in the off-off-Broadway play Dracula Sabbat, which ran from September 1970 to June 1971.
  • In 1972, she had a bit part in the film Hot Dogs for Gauguin.
  • That same year, Perlman appeared in the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective's production of Up – An Uppity Revue, alongside her future husband Danny DeVito.
These modest beginnings showcased Perlman's budding talents and paved the way for her breakthrough role on the television series Taxi in the late 1970s.
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Rhea Perlman's Early Breakthrough: Zena Sherman on 'Taxi'

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One of Rhea Perlman's earliest notable roles was as Zena Sherman, the recurring girlfriend of Louie De Palma (played by her future husband Danny DeVito), on the hit sitcom Taxi from 1978 to 1982. Perlman's portrayal of the sweet but feisty Zena, who often clashed with the cantankerous Louie, showcased her talent for comedic timing and memorable character work. This role helped establish Perlman in the industry and paved the way for her iconic turn as Carla Tortelli on Cheers just a few years later. The Taxi reunion in 2023, where Perlman was joined by DeVito, Tony Danza, and Carol Kane at the opening of her play "Let's Call Her Patty," highlighted the enduring bond between the former co-stars and Perlman's roots on the classic sitcom. Her performance as Zena marked an early career highlight and demonstrated her comedic skills that would make her a television star.
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Rhea Perlman: Iconic as Carla Tortelli on 'Cheers' (1982-1993)

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Rhea Perlman is best known for her iconic role as the wisecracking barmaid Carla Tortelli on the hit sitcom Cheers, which aired from 1982 to 1993. While the show struggled with ratings in its first season, by the time it ended Cheers had become one of the most popular and acclaimed series of all time, winning 20 Emmy Awards out of 95 nominations. For her performance as Carla, Perlman won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series an impressive four times - in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. She was nominated for the Emmy every year except 1992, racking up a total of 10 nominations over Cheers' 11 seasons and becoming the show's most awarded cast member. Perlman was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, more than any other actress in that category.
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Comedic Actress Rhea Perlman (Photos)

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Rhea Perlman's Notable Film Roles

Rhea Perlman has appeared in numerous films and television shows over her prolific career spanning five decades. Some of her most notable works include:
YearTitleRole
1995Canadian BaconHoney
1996MatildaZinnia Wormwood
2012The SessionsMikvah Lady
2015I'll See You in My DreamsSally
2019PomsAlice
2023BarbieRuth Handler
Perlman has lent her voice to several animated projects like The Timekeeper (1994), We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993), and the Harley Quinn TV series (2019-present). She has taken on recurring TV roles in shows such as Pearl (1996-97), Kate Brasher (2001), The Mindy Project (2014-17) as Danny's mother, and Star Wars: The Bad Batch (2021) as Cid. Her filmography showcases her versatility across comedy, drama, and voice acting, bringing her trademark wit and depth to each role. Perlman's performances in films like Matilda, Canadian Bacon, and Barbie have allowed her to reach new audiences beyond her celebrated Cheers years.
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Acclaimed Awards and Nominations

Here is a table summarizing Rhea Perlman's major awards and nominations:
AwardNominationsWins
Primetime Emmy Awards10 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1983-1993)4 (1984, 1985, 1986, 1989)
Golden Globe Awards6 for Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series (1988-1992)0
Over the course of her 11 seasons on Cheers, Perlman was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards in the Outstanding Supporting Actress category, winning an impressive 4 times. She also received 6 consecutive Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress between 1988-1992 for her performance as Carla Tortelli, though she never won. Perlman's 4 Emmy wins made her the most awarded cast member on Cheers, and her 6 Golden Globe nods set a record at the time for most nominations in the supporting actress category. Her acclaimed work was recognized year after year by her peers, cementing her status as one of television's most iconic comedic actresses.
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Rhea Perlman (Interviews)

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Marriage to Danny DeVito

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Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito have been married since 1982, though they separated in 2012 and have been living apart for over a decade. Despite this, they remain legally married and maintain a close relationship, frequently seeing each other and celebrating family events together. They have three children - Lucy, Grace, and Jacob - and recently welcomed their first grandchild, Sinclair Lucille DeVito. Perlman and DeVito met in 1970 and began dating in 1971, moving in together just weeks after their first date. Their marriage has endured for over 40 years, with Perlman stating they have a "pretty decent understanding and relationship" and that family remains the top priority for both of them. The couple has collaborated professionally, co-starring in the 1978 sitcom Taxi and the 1996 film Matilda. Despite living apart, their bond remains strong through daily conversations, shared experiences like family vacations, and supporting each other's careers.
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Philanthropic Power Couple: Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito's Charitable Work

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Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito have been actively involved in various philanthropic endeavors over the years, using their celebrity status to raise awareness and funds for important causes. They have supported organizations focused on children's health, education, and poverty alleviation. Despite their separation, Perlman and DeVito continue to make public appearances together, celebrating each other's professional achievements and milestones. For instance, in 2023, DeVito, along with Taxi co-stars Tony Danza and Carol Kane, attended the opening night of Perlman's play "Let's Call Her Patty," showcasing their enduring friendship and mutual support. The couple has also used their platforms to advocate for social and political issues they care about, lending their voices to various campaigns and initiatives. Their philanthropic efforts and public appearances together highlight their commitment to giving back and their strong bond, even after living apart for over a decade.
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Closing Thoughts

Rhea Perlman's enduring career has spanned over five decades, cementing her status as one of the most iconic and acclaimed comedic actresses in American television and film. Her ability to bring depth, wit, and heart to every role, from the indelible Carla Tortelli on Cheers to memorable turns in films like Matilda and Canadian Bacon, has earned her the admiration of audiences and peers alike. With 10 Emmy nominations and 4 wins, as well as 6 Golden Globe nods, Perlman's talents have been repeatedly recognized by the industry's top honors. Yet beyond the awards, her true legacy lies in the rich, nuanced characters she has brought to life, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of American comedy. As she continues to take on new projects like her recent voice role in Star Wars: The Bad Batch and the upcoming Barbie film, Perlman remains a singular talent - an actress who can effortlessly blend biting wit with relatable humanity. Her four decades in the entertainment industry stand as a testament to her enduring comedic brilliance and ability to resonate with generations of viewers.
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