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Tim Conway, Beloved Comedian From ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ Dies at 85

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Tim Conway, whose gallery of innocent goofballs, stammering bystanders, transparent connivers, oblivious knuckleheads and hapless bumblers populated television comedy and variety shows for more than half a century, has died. He was 85.


His death was confirmed by his publicist, Howard Bragman, who provided no other details.

With a sweetly cherubic face, a deceptively athletic physicality and an utter devotion to foolishness and slapstick, Mr. Conway was among Hollywood’s most enduringly popular clowns. The winner of six Emmy Awards and a member of the Television Academy Hall of Fame, he was a leading non-leading man, a vivid second banana whose deferential mien and skill as a collaborator made him most comfortable — and often funniest — in the shadow of a star.

Conway passed away at 8:45 a.m. in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday, his rep Howard Bragman confirmed to the magazine.

For Mr. Conway, those stars were, most notably, Ernest Borgnine, with whom he appeared on the popular early-1960s series “McHale’s Navy,” and Carol Burnett, on whose comedy-variety show Mr. Conway was regularly featured from 1967 to 1978.

In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2004, Mr. Conway recalled that when he was cast in “McHale’s Navy,” he was a novice actor.

“I had no professional training at all,” he said. “I had a sense of humor and had been in front of a microphone, but as far as doing movies or series work or anything like that, I had no idea.”

“The Carol Burnett Show,” which frequently burlesqued movie genres, soap operas and other cultural touchstones, was showered with awards and is widely regarded as one of the most influential comedy programs of all time.

Mr. Conway’s talent for fully inhabiting the realm of the absurd — and within an ensemble cast that included Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner — helped him thrive in the once-popular TV variety-show format of comedy and musical skits.

A featured guest and then a regular cast member on the CBS show from 1967 to 1978, Mr. Conway was an inveterate prankster who delighted in comic brinkmanship with Korman in particular. To that end, Mr. Conway hid his best comic ideas and script improvisations during rehearsals, unfurling them only during taping in front of a studio audience.

A dentist sketch has long been a staple of vaudeville routines, but Mr. Conway’s spin on it led to one of the most memorable scenes in TV comedy, a favorite of countless aspiring performers who praised his physical prowess and control.

Mr. Conway played a hapless dentist who pokes himself three times with the Novocain needle, while Korman, the helpless patient, looks on from the dental chair. Mr. Conway’s timing and matter-of-fact performance as a man left immobilized by his own incompetence left Korman desperately trying to suppress his laughter.

Finally unable to cope, Korman was said to have wet his pants on the air. “I’m very proud of that, too,” Mr. Conway later said, “because I owned a cleaners at the time.”

Donning a never-ending supply of obvious wigs, the balding, elfin Mr. Conway seamlessly adopted all manner of personas. As Mr. Tudball, a businessman with a strange hybrid Swedish-Romanian accent, he is perpetually exasperated by the ineptitude and indifference of his secretary, the rump-heavy Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett).

He was a Nazi officer who interrogates a prisoner of war (Waggoner) and, promising to “get rough,” whips out a Hitler puppet that sings “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Dinah” in a German-accented falsetto.

As his recurring “Oldest Man” character, Mr. Conway was variously a butcher, an orchestra conductor, a doctor and a fireman — each with ludicrously slow motor skills and a mop of Einstein-like white hair. In one old man sketch, he fell down a flight of stairs at such a snail’s pace that it almost appeared to be a trick with the TV camera.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Burnett later recalled. “Harvey and I are just staring in shock. And he not only fell down in slow motion and collapsed, he proceeded to take the rug all the furniture was on and roll himself up! Chairs were falling over. It was a time I knew and wished I had invested in Depends.”

In 2002, Mr. Conway was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

Thomas Daniel Conway was born in Willoughby, Ohio, on Dec. 15, 1933, and grew up in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. His mother was a first-generation Romanian-American. His father was an immigrant from Ireland who trained polo ponies and racehorses.

Despite his small size, Mr. Conway was adept at gymnastics, football, basketball and baseball — an athleticism that he later put in the service of physical comedy.

His struggle with dyslexia seeded the idea for a future in comedy. “People thought that I was kidding when I would read out loud in school, so they started laughing,” Mr. Conway told the publication American Profile. “For instance, the book ‘They Were Expendable,’ I read as ‘They Were Expandable.’ People were going, ‘This guy is great!’ . . . I thought, ‘I must be funny, so I might as well continue with this.’ ”

Mr. Conway graduated in 1956 from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University with a major in speech and dramatic arts. He then went into the Army and spent two years stationed in Seattle, an experience that he later reduced to one amusing incident.

On guard duty one night, he realized that he didn’t have his rifle. Seeing his lieutenant coming around the corner, he grabbed a fluorescent tube from a nearby garbage can, pointed it at the officer and ordered him to halt.

“What is that?” the lieutenant said.

“It’s a lightbulb,” Mr. Conway answered. “And if you come any closer, I’ll turn it on.”

(The dentist sketch was also based on an incident in the Army when he needed to have a tooth pulled, and the military dentist jabbed the needle so hard it went through his cheek and into the man’s thumb.)

After his discharge, Mr. Conway found work in Cleveland writing jokes for a radio DJ. He later performed improvised comedy bits as a sidekick to local TV host Ernie Anderson, with Mr. Conway pretending to be a guest trumpeter or bullfighter. Veteran comic actress Rose Marie, passing through town, brought him to the attention of TV variety-show host Steve Allen.

Mr. Conway’s regular appearances with Allen led to his breakthrough in 1962, playing the bumbling Ensign Parker on ABC’s “McHale’s Navy,” a sitcom starring Ernest Borgnine. It ran for four years.

In addition to his work on the Burnett show, Mr. Conway headlined several short-lived self-titled variety series. His film roles included “The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975) opposite Don Knotts, as well as Disney fare that included “The World’s Greatest Athlete” (1973) and “The Shaggy D.A.” (1976).

In the late 1980s, Mr. Conway began releasing popular short films in which he played Derk Dorf, a tiny-legged instructor of golf, weightlifting and fishing with a vaguely Scandinavian accent.

In addition to his four Emmy Awards for “The Carol Burnett Show” — which he earned for performing and writing — Mr. Conway won an Emmy in 1996 for a guest appearance as a hapless gardener on the sitcom “Coach” and another in 2008 for playing an aging TV star named Bucky Bright on the sitcom “30 Rock.” He also voiced the character Barnacle Boy on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and guest-starred on sitcoms such as “Hot in Cleveland” and “Two and a Half Men.”

In 2013, he published a memoir, “What’s So Funny?,” written with Jane Scovell.

Mr. Conway’s first marriage, to Mary Anne Dalton, ended in divorce. In 1984, he married Burnett’s secretary, Charlene Fusco.

Besides his wife, survivors include six children from his first marriage; a stepdaughter; and a granddaughter.

(Reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post).

Obituary

Former Presidential Candidate H. Ross Perot Dies At Age 89

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FILE - In this April 20, 2019, file photo, Ross Perot listens to a reporter's question during a news conference before accepting the Command and General Staff College Foundation's 2010 Distinguished Leadership Award in Kansas City, Mo. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

DALLAS (AP) — H. Ross Perot, the colorful, self-made Texas billionaire who rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty and twice ran for president as a third-party candidate, has died. He was 89.


Perot, whose 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the past century, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his devoted family, family spokesman James Fuller said.

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he went his own way — creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

Yet the most famous event in his career didn’t involve sales and earnings; he financed a private commando raid in 1979 to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

Perot first became known to Americans outside of business circles by claiming that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War. Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam’s government.

Perot’s wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. Some Republicans blamed him for Bush’s loss to Clinton as Perot garnered the largest percentage of votes for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 bid.


FILE – In this Oct. 15, 1992, file photo, President George H.W. Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate in Richmond, Va. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander, File)

During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money and bought 30-minute television spots. He used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catchphrase: “It’s just that simple.”

Perot’s second campaign four years later was far less successful. He was shut out of presidential debates when organizers said he lacked sufficient support. He got just 8% of the vote, and the Reform Party that he founded and hoped to build into a national political force began to fall apart.

However, Perot’s ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape. He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and allowing American jobs to be sent to other countries. The movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico, he said, created a “giant sucking sound.”

Perot continued to speak out about federal spending for many years. In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation’s debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog and a chart presentation.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930. His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary. Perot said his family survived the Depression relatively well through hard work and by managing their money carefully.

Young Perot’s first job was delivering papers in a poor, mostly black part of town from his pony, Miss Bee. When the newspaper tried to cut his commission, he said he complained to the publisher — and won. He said that taught him to take problems straight to the top.

From Texarkana, Perot went to the U.S. Naval Academy even though he had never been on a ship or seen the ocean. After the Navy, Perot joined International Business Machines in 1955 and quickly became a top salesman. In his last year at IBM, he filled his sales quota for the year in January.

In 1962, with $1,000 from his wife, Margot, Perot founded Electronic Data Systems. Hardware accounted for about 80% of the computer business, Perot said, and IBM wasn’t interested in the other 20%, including services.

Many of the early hires at EDS were former military men, and they had to abide by Perot’s strict dress code — white shirts, ties, no beards or mustaches — and long workdays. Many had crew cuts, like Perot.

The company’s big break came in the mid-1960s when the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for seniors, the disabled and the poor. States needed help in running the programs, and EDS won contracts — starting in Texas — to handle the millions of claims.

EDS first sold stock to the public in 1968, and overnight, Perot was worth $350 million. His fortune doubled and tripled as the stock price rose steadily.

In 1984, he sold control of the company to General Motors Corp. for $2.5 billion and received $700 million in a buyout. In 2008, EDS was sold to Hewlett-Packard Co.

Perot went on to establish another computer-services company, Perot Systems Corp. He retired as CEO in 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Ross Perot Jr. In 2009, Dell Inc. bought Perot Systems.

In September 2011, Forbes magazine estimated Perot’s wealth at $3.5 billion and ranked him No. 91 on its list of richest Americans.

Perot was not immune to mistakes in business. His biggest might have been a 1971 investment in duPont Glore Forgan, then one of the biggest brokerage houses on Wall Street. The administration of President Richard Nixon asked Perot to save the company to head off an investor panic, and he also poured money into another troubled brokerage, Walston & Co., but wound up losing much of his $100 million investment.

It was during the Nixon administration that Perot became involved in the issue of U.S. prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. Perot said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked him to lead a campaign to improve treatment of POWs held in North Vietnam. Perot chartered two jets to fly medical supplies and the wives of POWs to Southeast Asia. They were not allowed into North Vietnam, but the trip attracted enormous media attention.

After their release in 1973, some prisoners said conditions in the camps had improved after the failed missions.

In 1979, the Iranian government jailed two EDS executives and Perot vowed to win their release.

“Ross came to the prison one day and said, ‘We’re going to get you out,’” one of the men, Paul Chiapparone, told The Associated Press. “How many CEOs would do that today?”

Perot recruited retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons to lead a commando raid on the prison. A few days later, the EDS executives walked free after the shah’s regime fell and mobs stormed the prison. Simons’ men sneaked the executives out of the country and into Turkey. The adventure was recalled in Ken Follett’s best-selling book “On Wings of Eagles” and a TV miniseries.

In later years, Perot pushed the Veterans Affairs Department to study neurological causes of Gulf War syndrome, a mysterious illness reported by many soldiers who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. He scoffed at officials who blamed the illnesses on stress — “as if they are wimps” — and paid for additional research.

Perot received a special award from the VA for his support of veterans and the military in 2009.

In Texas, Perot led commissions on education reform and crime. He was given many honorary degrees and awards for business success and patriotism.

While he worked at Perot Systems in suburban Dallas, entire hallways were filled with memorabilia from soldiers and POWs that Perot had helped. His personal office was dominated by large paintings of his wife and five children and bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington.

Several original Norman Rockwell paintings hung in the waiting area, and Perot once told a visiting reporter that he tried to live by Rockwell’s ethics of hard, honest work and family.

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Obituary

Bill Buckner, Forever Known For Error, Dies At 69

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BOSTON (AP) — Bill Buckner, a star hitter who became known for making one of the most infamous plays in major league history, has died. He was 69.


Buckner’s family said in a statement that he died Monday after a long battle with dementia.

Buckner won an NL batting title, was an All-Star and got 2,715 hits in a 22-year career.

But it was a little groundball in the 1986 World Series that forever changed his legacy.

Trying for their first crown since 1918, the Boston Red Sox led the New York Mets 5-3 going into the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 at Shea Stadium. The Mets tied it with two outs, then Mookie Wilson hit a trickler up the first base that rolled through Buckner’s legs, an error that let Ray Knight rush home from second base with the winning run.

The Red Sox lost 8-5 in Game 7, and their World Series drought continued until they won the championship in 2004.

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Comedy Store Co-Founder Sammy Shore Dies At Age 92

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Actor and standup comedian Sammy Shore, who co-founded the Comedy Store, has died at the age of 92.


The family said through a spokeswoman that Shore died Saturday at his home in Las Vegas surrounded by loved ones. He was the father of comedian Pauly Shore.

Sammy Shore’s nearly seven-decade career stretched from New York’s “Borscht Belt” summer resorts to Las Vegas and the studios of Hollywood. He opened for such legendary singers as Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett.

Shore, his first wife Mitzi and writing partner Rudy Deluca founded the world-famous Los Angeles comedy club, the Comedy Store, in 1972.

Pauly Shore tweeted that his father lived an “amazing life” and he’ll carry on his legacy.

Sammy was married to Suzanne Dennie Shore for the last 29 years.

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