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Randy Runyon dies at 57; entertained as Chucko the clown

Runyon took over the role of Chucko from his father, Charles M. Runyon, who created the role on TV in L.A. in the 1950s and '60s.

From a Times Staff Writer

February 24, 2013

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Randy Runyon, who entertained audiences in Southern California for more than a decade as Chucko, the clown character he took over from his father in the 1980s, died Wednesday at his home in Canyon Country. He was 57.

His death followed a lengthy battle with lung cancer that spread to his liver, according to his wife, Joan.

Runyon's father, Charles M. Runyon, created the character and starred in the "Chucko the Birthday Clown" show on KABC and KTTV in the 1950s and '60s. Children often waited years for the chance to appear on the popular show on their birthday with Chucko, who, with his finely painted clown face and spinning merry-go-round hat, became a Los Angeles celebrity along with such other kiddie-show stars as Engineer Bill, Sheriff John and Bozo the Clown.

Growing up with a show-biz father led Runyon to perform in front of audiences at an early age. Born in Long Beach on July 26, 1955, he was 10 when he was featured as a unicycling juggler at Jungleland, a Thousand Oaks amusement park where his father hosted children's parties until the park closed in 1969. He made his debut as Chucko Jr. in the Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade in the mid-1960s.

In 1972, he joined what is now Circus Vargas and went on the road as the cowboy-inspired Jeepers the Clown. As an adult, Runyon tried working in real estate and telemarketing, but the allure of pratfalls and greasepaint proved stronger.

Twice married, he teamed with his first wife, Joan, in a juggling and unicycle act. With his second wife, also named Joan, he toured the country with a magic act and operated a children's birthday party business that featured Jeepers.

He began playing Chucko full-time in 1984, after his father retired. In addition to appearing at birthday and large corporate parties, he occasionally was seen on television on shows such as "The Arsenio Hall Show" and the NBC soap opera "Santa Barbara" as well as in commercials for Taco Bell.

Runyon, who battled a number of addictions and was homeless for a time, retired the Chucko act in 1995 after several lean years for the clown business. According to family friend Roger Smith, Runyon blamed the downturn in bookings on the 1990 TV miniseries "It," based on the Stephen King novel of the same name that featured a demonic clown character.

"He maintained that independent clowns suffered nationwide due to the movie," Smith said, "and he eventually retired the act rather than have children confused and afraid of their beloved Chucko."

His father died in 2008, eight years after his mother, Mildred, who created Chucko's makeup. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, Dan, of Oregon.

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