By EW Staff
Updated May 27, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Actress Marilu Henner managed to cross paths with late actor Jeff Conaway often during their shared time in the acting world. Not only did they star together on the hit sitcom Taxi, but they also appeared together on Broadway in Grease (with Conaway playing Danny Zuko, not the role of Kenickie he later made famous in the film version). Henner told Entertainment Weekly that the news of his passing hit her hard, especially considering he appeared to be getting better.

“They had induced the coma to try to help him heal from this pneumonia,” Henner said. “I thought he was going to pull out of this. When I saw him last week, he was moving his head, he looked so handsome lying there. He seemed good. He looked the best I’d seen him in five years.”

Henner said that many of his former co-stars were at his bedside during his bout with pneumonia, which landed him in the hospital several weeks ago. “Tony [Danza] and I went to see him almost every day,” she said. “The Taxi family is really close. But Jeff and I knew each other well. He reminded me of one of my brothers and I reminded him of one his sisters, so we had a real family bond.”

She recalled one particular moment from a few years back that summed up Conaway’s sense of humor. “When we were doing [Andy Kaufman biopic] Man on the Moon, i was so excited because they duplicated the Taxi set. I brought my boys with me, and Jeff watched them in the hair and make-up room while I did something else, and when I walked back into the hair and make-up room, he had turned them completely into greasers,” she laughed.

Though in recent years Conaway became better known as a member of the cast of Celebrity Rehab (“He was playing a character there,” she said. “He had his problems, but he would always wind up a bit for the cameras”), Henner hopes that people recognize him for his body of work and, most importantly, for his big heart. “He was just a big, loving person,” she said. “I was always happy to hear from him, and I hope younger kids don’t think of him as just a guy from Celebrity Rehab because he was so much more.” — Reporting from Kyle Anderson