Byrnes, who was born Edward Byrne Breitenberger in New York City, came from a poor family. His alcoholic father died when he was 13.
At 17, he began to work as a photographer’s model and was drawn into male hustling with wealthy older men that introduced him to a “strange world” of “art, wealth, sadism, limousines, sex for money, theater and fine restaurants,” Byrnes wrote in his 1996 autobiography, “ ’Kookie’ No More.”
Byrnes was best known as Kookie on the private-detective series “77 Sunset Strip,” which ran from ran from 1958 to 1964. Byrnes played a hip parking attendant at a Hollywood nightclub who helped out with cases. He was known for his hipster lingo, including the catch phrase “Baby, you’re the ginchiest!”
When he wasn’t making wisecracks, Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III was lovingly combing his well-greased hairdo.
The show made Byrnes a teen idol who at the height of his popularity received 15,000 fan letters a week.
“Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” a novelty record he recorded with Connie Stevens, sold more than 1 million copies and rose to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 1959.
He appeared in dozens of movies and on episodes of several TV shows, including “Fantasy Island” and “Murder, She Wrote.” In 1975, Byrnes was hired to host a new game show called “Wheel of Fortune” and filmed two pilots, but the job eventually went to Chuck Woolery.
In the 1978 John Travolta movie “Grease,” he played Vince Fontaine, the suave host of the “National Bandstand” TV dance show.