In the 1984 film The Karate Kid, Rob Garrison portrayed Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) friend and Cobra Kai teammate, Tommy. While the character is not as ruthless as some of John Kreese’s (Martin Kove) other students, he does shout out “get him a body bag” when Johnny faces off an injured Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) at the 1984 All Valley Tournament.
Tommy appears during the second season of the acclaimed series Cobra Kai. In Season 2, Episode 6, his friends Johnny, Bobby (Ron Thomas), and Jimmy (Tony O’Dell) visit him at hospice, as his health is declining. They decide to take him on a road trip to Big Bear, where they go to a bar and spend the day reminiscing. That night, Johnny discusses his many regrets and Tommy gently reminds that he “still [has] time… to change [his] life.” The following morning, his friends realize that Tommy has passed away and are understandably devastated. When the paramedics arrive, they take him away in a body bag.
In September 2019, Rob Garrison passed away due to “kidney and liver issues,” as reported by TMZ. This may have caused some fans of the Karate Kid franchise to wonder if the actor’s real-life illness inspired Tommy’s storyline.
The Show’s Creators Clarified That Garrison Was Not Sick During Filming
During a September 2020 interview with Kristian Harloff, Cobra Kai’s co-creators and executive producers Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald clarified that Garrison shot the episode before anyone realized he was sick. The writers explained that they decided to have Tommy die as a way to reference his infamous “body bag” line.
Heald also revealed that they intended to “bring back” Garrison to play Tommy in flashbacks and were shocked by the news that he had been hospitalized. Hurwitz shared similar sentiments about the actor and noted that his death made the episode even more significant.
“When we found out what was happening it hit all of us very hard. You know, we were in production and as Josh said we actually had plans to bring him back later in the seasons and it was like whoa. We were like hopefully he gets better because we know how much he enjoyed working on this and was looking forward to potentially returning. And then, you know, it happened as you were saying as you watch the scenes there’s whole added layer to it for all of us,” explained the writer.
Heald Revealed That the Actors Were Mourning the Loss of a Mutual Friend While Shooting the Episode
Heald then disclosed that during the filming of Season 2, Episode 6, Zabka, Garrison, O’Dell, and Thomas had been mourning the loss of one of their friends who had just passed away. The writer noted that this real-life tragedy caused the actors to be overcome with emotion.
“They’re waking up and realizing that Tommy is dead and there were real tears streaming down. I mean Ron Thomas especially went to a place where it was raw and Billy too and Tony,” recalled Heald.
He then went on to say that if Garrison had been sick during production, he did not believe the show could have “been able to carry forth [Tommy’s] storyline with a straight face and an honest look.”