Part of the great thing about Netflix’s Cobra Kai is that it’s a little bit of everything; it’s got lots of karate and a great story yes, but it’s also got moments that will make you laugh, moments that will make you cry, and a little bit of everything in between. And while much of the credit goes to the cast and co-creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald, the team that makes a TV show into the finished product you see on your screen is much, much larger than that. And those teams, working so closely for months at a time, can start to feel like a family—and when you lose a member of any family, it hurts.
In Cobra Kai, the show must go on—there’s a story to tell. But it’s worth noting that the show pays tribute in Episode 3 of Season 5, titled “Playing With Fire,” to a member of its own family that was lost: a man named Jeff Kay.
Just as the screen fades to black at the conclusion of the episode, following Mike Barnes seeing his furniture store burn to the ground (likely thanks to the sinister mind of Mr. Terry Silver), we get a tribute on screen: “In memoriam, Jeff Kay, 1965-2021”
Here’s a little bit about who Jeff Kay was, and what he did for Cobra Kai and in the entertainment industry at large.
Who was Jeff Kay?
Jeff Kay was a first assistant director and production manager on Cobra Kai, who suddenly died on October 17, 2021. He was only 56 years old.
Kay’s fingerprints were all over the film and television industry; he worked on all sorts of shows, from American Housewives spirit Rizzoli & Isles thaw Numb3rs spirit Entourage. He also worked as a second unit director on movies in the ’90s such as Courage Under Fire spirit Gettysburg.
Upon his passing a year ago, actress Meg Donnelly—one of the leads of American Housewives and star of the upcoming Supernatural spinoff The Winchesters—paid tribute to him on Twitter. “Our beloved Jeff Kay, who is speaking in this video— was the 1 AD & part of our beautiful American housewife family… and has passed away suddenly… our family is mourning this huge loss,” she wrote. “his bright energy was so contagious and never ever failed to make us all laugh.”
Actress and writer Jewel Shepard elaborated on Donnelly’s post following the release of Cobra Kai Season 5, diving a bit deeper into what Kay—whom she knew for decades. “he was more than a 1st AD,” she wrote. “he was a friend, from 30 years ago, when he started in the biz as a PA.”
Shepard continued, describing how few PAs actually stick around in the industry to the point of becoming ADs and other similar jobs. Kay, she said, was one of the few—and he transformed the sets he was on. “Directors set the tone for the project, but a 1st AD is the pulse of a production,” she said. “a beloved AD is one who can via his energy and enthusiasm as well as knowledge can keep folks invigorated to continue a 15 hour day going 5 days a week, through, pandemics, problems, etc. on budget”
You may not have known Kay’s name as one of the stars or creators of Cobra Kai—or his other projects—but his impact was without question a major one.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.