See Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington From "Welcome Back, Kotter" Now at 68
THE BELOVED SWEATHOG HAS BEEN ACTING EVER SINCE—AND WAS RECENTLY NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY.
In the mid-'70s, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs shot to fame playing Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington on Welcome Back, Kotter—the ABC sitcom series that first put megastar John Travolta on the map. The show centered on a teacher, Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), who returned to his New York City high school to teach the remedial class he was in as a teen. Along with Vinnie Barbarino (Travolta), Boom Boom was one of the "Sweathogs," a hilarious gang of lovable trouble-makers in the class. Now 68 years old, Jacobs has enjoyed a long and successful career in film and television, having earned three NAACP Image Awards and more recently in 2021, a nomination for a Daytime Emmy Award for his work on the show A House Divided. Read on to see the actor now, and find out what else he's been up to since Welcome Back, Kotter went off the air.
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Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs is a jack of all trades in the entertainment industry.
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Jacobs got his start in theater, first studying with two all-Black performing arts companies in New York City. He reportedly performed on stage in Cora's Second Cousin, The Dean, What the Wine Sellers Buy, Mask in Black, and The Exterminator, before grabbing the attention of Hollywood casting directors.
After the 1975 premiere of Welcome Back, Kotter, Jacobs was a household name, and was highly sought after for other prominent roles. He later starred on Roots, and appeared on Fame, Hill Street Blues, Martin, Roseanne, Weird Science, Moesha, Gilmore Girls, and more. In one of his more critically acclaimed roles, Jacobs played Joseph Jackson opposite Angela Bassett in the 1992 miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream.
Jacobs is also a musician: He plays piano and keyboard, and was even credited as a vocalist on the 1981 Rick James album Street Songs. The star says he also moonlights as a writer and director.
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He shot to fame all at once—but says he didn't let it affect him.
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In quick succession in the early '70s, Jacobs became involved in three popular projects that would quickly catapult him to fame: Claudine, Cooley High, and Welcome Back, Kotter. He says that thanks to their near-simultaneous release, he became an overnight celebrity. "It was all that at the same time—it was almost like, instantaneously. Welcome Back, Kotter came out on Sept. 9, 1975—don't ask me why, I remember all dates and trivial nonsense—and I went back to New York to see the show with my family, and on the 10th I walked out the door, and it was pandemonium," he recalled.
That said, the actor seems to have taken it all in stride. "I take it as a blessing and there's a little luck in there of course," he shared during an interview for the show Conversations on City TV 10. "I'm a casual person about stardom, whatever that's supposed to be. It's a gig and I do it and I really love it, I share it openly—I'll talk to anyone—but I don't trip on it." Instead, he says, he focuses on the work itself to deliver his best performance every time—a tactic that seems to be working for the accomplished actor.
Jacobs has opened up about his acting secrets.
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For decades now, Jacobs has won over audiences in a range of dramatic and comedic roles. He says one important thing he's learned as an actor is to avoid judgement when it comes to his characters. "I am not, as an actor, there to judge my character like an outsider, because whether my character is an evil person or a good person, I'm there to play their truth and convey that message," he said in his Conversations interview, adding "hopefully the audience will get that."
"Now of course, acting is deliberate—if I want you to cry I'm trying to make you cry … but I still have to have what I call a 'roller coaster of dynamics,' to getting to that point of emotion," he added. Instead of analyzing the character more than the character would likely analyze themselves, he said he tries to stay in the moment.
Jacobs also told Digital Journal that another key to his success in the acting world has been sheer determination. "You have to really want it, and you need to deal with the truth of things," he said, adding, "I've been in the industry for 55 years, which is almost a lifetime."
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He is often hailed as a trailblazer of his time.
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When Welcome Back, Kotter aired, Jacobs was one of only two Black, teenage, male actors on a sitcom. "Myself and Jimmy Walker—Jimmy was on Good Times … we used to always talk about it back in the day," the actor recalled in his Conversations interview. He says the opportunity was a reflection of the show itself, which embraced a diverse cast in order that reflected the true diversity of 1970's New York. "Italian, Puerto Rican, Jewish, Irish—we'd just mix it all up. We tried to be real in the diversity that New York City is about. It's a melting pot community," he said.
He added that to this day, the cast of Welcome Back, Kotter is still close—over 40 years after the show wrapped. "We did the show for four and a half years, and we still have that close bond of family, and natural love," he told Digital Journal following his recent Emmy nomination.
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