Last month, Cheers laid off its senior bartender, Eddie Doyle. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails about this from people who heard my Boston Behind the Scenes “Cheers” episode, where I interviewed Eddie about his time at the bar and his thoughts on its fame. Here’s my take on Eddie, and the bad news he got last month:
Eddie Doyle told me he started coming to Cheers, then called the Bull & Finch, a long time ago (the Globe puts their introduction in 1969). He said that a photographer friend of his told him to check out the Bull & Finch when it was a brand new bar. Eddie had some trouble finding the place at first — an experience that many Boston tourists share — because of the big canopy of the Hampshire House restaurant that still obscures the sign from one side. Once he got downstairs, he really liked the place, so he stayed for 40 years.
At that point, Doyle was a graphic artist in an advertising firm, and he would spend time at the Bull & Finch most nights after work. “I used to come and enjoy the ambiance and all my friends here,” he said. Quite ironically, it was getting laid off from his advertising job that made Eddie Boston’s most famous bartender. He had been a regular for a while, and was doing some menu layouts and graphics work for the Bull & Finch on the side, so he was a shoe-in for the bartender job that opened up in 1974.
A few years later, he was getting the bar ready to open one summer afternoon when a man and a woman from California climbed over the bar stools he’d put in front of the door to keep people out. “It wasn’t like I dragged them off the street and twisted their arm and told them this was going to be it,” he told me in the interview. They introduced themselves, and asked if they could take some pictures of the bar for a new sitcom being developed by NBC. He said yes, and the setting for one of the most popular TV shows in history was decided right there.
Once the show aired, curious fans started coming in to see the place. Some actually expected to find Sam Malone behind the bar, but instead they found Eddie (who is actually a pretty good double for the show’s mailman Cliff). He said that it got to the point where he would average over 3,000 people in a single eight-hour weekday shift — and over 5,000 on weekends — after the show was on the air for a while.
The Bull & Finch pub became the tourist attraction “Cheers” after the staff noticed people stealing ashtrays, menus, and silverware. “Most of the stuff didn’t even have our name on it,” Eddie said, but they’d take it anyway. Eddie’s inner advertising man suggested to his boss that they start making T-shirts, and the Cheers gift shop was born. They tripled their staff, and became a must-visit spot for Boston tourists.
In the decade and a half since Cheers went off the air, Eddie saw the crowds dwindle. They started picking up a few regulars again — only two or three had stuck it out from before the TV show — but when I spoke to him in the summer of 2006, he thought that 90-95% of their business was still from tourists. That probably has a lot to do with the economic troubles that led to him being laid off.
Eddie may be the one that the articles are being written about, but there’s another casualty of his leaving that isn’t getting as much mention: Eddie used his fame and Cheers’ visibility to help a lot of people, work that will also come to an end with his departure. In his 35 years at the Bull & Finch, Eddie’s charity auctions and events raised over $1 million for children and the underprivileged. In an interview with the Globe, Eddie said he wouldn’t do the auctions after leaving Cheers — and the owner of the pub implied that they wouldn’t continue without him.
Boston’s Mayor Menino declared September 12, 1999 to be “Eddie Doyle Day.” Eddie deserves that honor, both for his service the city’s tourists and to those in need. At 66, Eddie will get to enjoy his retirement and the accolades that are being piled on him, but his departure will leave a much bigger hole than just the one behind the bar.
Use this player to listen to my interview with Eddie: