Randy Mantooth: Tim Donnelly’s Death ‘Created a Hole in Our Hearts’

A photo of Tim Donnelly on display at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum.
A photo of Tim Donnelly on display at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum. (Photo used with permission.)

To Randy Mantooth, Tim Donnelly was just like the character he played on the groundbreaking ’70s TV drama Emergency!

“He was a jokester. A prankster,” Mantooth said by phone from Southern California. “A delight to be around.

“Boy, when you looked over and saw a little gleam in his eye – what is he about to do?”

Donnelly, who is best known for playing Firefighter Chet Kelly on Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Engine 51, died September 17 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, of surgery complications, his brother told the Hollywood Reporter.

He was 77.

Best known for his role on the NBC program that ran from 1972–1978 alongside Mantooth and Kevin Tighe, Donnelly had smaller parts in Hawaii Five-O, The Legend of Jesse James and The Virginian. His last role was in 1984.

Emergency! introduced the concept of paramedics to millions and inspired many to become EMS practitioners themselves. Mantooth said Donnelly was well-liked by the actors of Emergency! and the crew.

“He would talk their language,” he recalled. “He would sit down with them. A lot of the crew felt he was part of the crew. There was no crew-actor barrier.”

Despite not seeing Donnelly in over two decades – the last time being when some of the show’s memorabilia was selected for preservation into the Smithsonian Museum – Mantooth said he took Donnelly’s death hard.

“All the personnel at the [Los Angeles County Fire Museum] called me. I said, ‘Let me tell Kevin.’ I called Kevin right away. It hurts.”

Donnelly was excited to be attending a series of events next year at the museum commemorating the show’s 50th anniversary.

“We were looking forward to having him at the January… reunion,” Mantooth said. “And he was excited about being there. He’s created a hole in our hearts. His presence will be missed.”

Both Mantooth and Tighe are currently co-producing a documentary about today’s paramedics. Into the Unknown recently wrapped pre-production. No release date has been announced. “It turns out being a producer isn’t what it’s trumped up to be,” Mantooth quipped.

Donnelly is survived by his daughter, two grandsons and other family members.

“I loved him and miss him terribly,” Mantooth said. “He was a big part of Emergency! and a big part of what made Emergency! click.”

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