By 1961, the face that launched several thousand pies in Detroit began to dominate local TV in Los Angeles. Critics were unkind, calling the show "a mishmash of mediocrity" that was meant for "kids with low IQs." But viewers lapped it up, making it the No. 1 local show by 1962. A survey at the time revealed that more than a third of Sales' fans consisted of adults. Some of them were hosting pie-lobbing parties in their basements.
The appearance by Sinatra stirred a stampede of stars hungry for the same humiliation. One night featured a triple-header: Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Trini Lopez were all pied together.
In his evening show, Sales also featured jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. The Ken Burns jazz documentary included a clip from Sales' show.
Once, the crew played a joke on him by posing a naked woman in a stage door. When Sales opened the door, he gasped and feared his career was over, but the scene was never telecast.
For notoriety, nothing beat the show that aired New Year's Day 1965, when Sales was producing the program in New York. Told he had a minute to fill, the comic told the children watching on WNEW-TV to find their parents' wallets and "get all the green pieces of paper with the pictures of guys in beards" and mail them to him. In return, he said, he would send them "a postcard from Puerto Rico."
Sales had used the same joke in Detroit and Los Angeles. But this time, the prank elicited some $80,000 "in Monopoly money," as well as a complaint from a viewer filed with the FCC. Sales' show was suspended, prompting fans to swamp the station's switchboard with protest calls, mostly from high school and college students who demanded that their favorite television fare resume. Within a week, it did.
On a website devoted to the Sales show, a fan recalled that the first program after the New Year's episode opened with stock footage of dancing girls kicking up their heels and crowds cheering; the musical accompaniment was "Happy Days Are Here Again." "It was obvious to all of us that our beloved Soupy was unrepentant," the fan wrote, "and we repressed youths were behind him. I must dispute the thesis . . . that Froggy from 'Andy's Gang' was the cause of '60s rebelliousness. It was Soupy who inspired my generation to anarchy."
Sales called the episode "the most brilliant minute of ad-lib in television history because it proved how powerful the medium is."
Later that year he invented a dance called "The Mouse," a loony version of the Twist in which Sales bared his upper teeth, raised his hands to his ears and wiggled his fingers while chewing in time to the music. He performed it several times on "The Ed Sullivan Show," where he met dancer Trudy Carson. They were married in 1980.
When animation took over children's programming in the 1960s, personalities such as Shari Lewis and Sales began to lose their appeal. In 1966 his show was not renewed in New York and went into syndication. A new version was produced and syndicated in 1978-79.
During the next few decades, Sales starred in a short-lived Broadway comedy and became a regular panelist on the long-running TV game show "What's My Line?" He also was a featured performer in the musical variety show "Sha Na Na" from 1978 to 1981.
In the mid-1980s, he emceed a radio show on WNBC in New York, sandwiched between Don Imus and Howard Stern. He acted in several movies, notably in the role of Moses in the 1993 cult comedy " . . . And God Spoke."
He once acknowledged that his trademark pie routine hurt his career: "Producers say, 'Hey, all he does is throw pies.' It kept me off a lot of shows."
His authority in pie-tossing even landed him in court -- as an expert witness. In 1974 he was called to testify in the court-martial of a sailor accused of pitching a pie into an officer's face. Noted defense attorney William Smith enlisted Sales to tell how, after launching more than 19,000 creamy missiles, he had never been prosecuted for assault with a pie. Pie-hurling, Sales told the court, was "a harmless joke" designed to "relieve tensions and frustrations." He offered to perform at the Port Hueneme naval base Christmas show if the charges were dropped but was turned down. The sailor was found guilty.
Sales kept up club appearances through the 1990s, performing before audiences of baby boomers.
"A lot of people grew up watching me," he told The Times several years ago. "I'll probably be remembered for the pies, and that's all right. That's fine and dandy. I'm flattered."
He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Trudy Carson Sales; sons Tony and Hunt from a previous marriage; a brother; and four grandchildren.