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Sandy Baron; Comic Known for Quirky Roles on Stage, Screen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sandy Baron, a veteran comedian and actor who often played appealingly schlocky characters in films and television, including a recurring role on TV’s “Seinfeld,” died of emphysema Sunday at a Van Nuys nursing home. He was 64.

Baron played Jack Klompus, the nemesis of Jerry Seinfeld’s father, on the long-running NBC sitcom. During a career that spanned four decades, he also gave notable performances in movies such as “Broadway Danny Rose” and on stage in “Lenny,” a play about the life and humor of comedian Lenny Bruce.

Born Sanford Beresofsky in Brooklyn, Baron spent summers as a boy working with his mother in kitchens at Catskill Mountain resorts. His exposure to Borscht Belt comics convinced him that he could be funny for a living.

After graduating from Brooklyn College, he entered the New York nightclub scene as a stand-up comic and also worked on the Broadway stage and in off-Broadway companies such as Second City and The Premise, which specialized in social satire.

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As a stand-up comic, Baron opened for a wide range of performers, including Nancy Wilson, The Fifth Dimension, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, Della Reese and Lou Rawls. With Rawls, he wrote the lyrics to the 1971 hit “Natural Man.”

He moved to Hollywood in the mid-1960s for a regular spot on “That Was the Week That Was,” the pioneering but short-lived political satire program that also featured David Frost, Buck Henry and Alan Alda.

When that show was canceled, Baron returned to nightclubs and guest spots on the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows, eventually landing another television sitcom job in the role of Chuck Hookstratten in “Hey Landlord” on NBC.

By 1972 he was starring in “Lenny” at Hollywood’s Aquarius Theater. He earned strong reviews for his moving portrayal of the trenchant, foul-mouthed satirist, whose squalid death from a drug overdose made headlines in 1966.

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“Baron not only makes you feel that it’s all just coming to Lenny as he says it, he makes you feel how much Lenny cares. . . . " Times theater critic Dan Sullivan wrote, adding that he favored Baron’s performance over that of actor Cliff Gorman in the Broadway version of the Julian Barry play.

“I’m not trying to play the soul of just Lenny or me,” Baron said in a Times interview in 1972. “In a weird way, I want to be a channel for my fellow comedians, for their pain and their torture, for what goes on in their heads, trying to be funny before a thousand people a night.”

Baron, who once was described as having “the deep-socketed eyes of a man who has seen too many sunrises through the murky filter of a cabaret’s smoke,” appeared in about 20 movies. He played himself as the comedian-narrator in Woody Allen’s 1984 film “Broadway Danny Rose” but also gave memorable performances in lesser-known films, such as the 1986 movie “Vamp,” which starred Grace Jones as a stripteasing vampire and featured Baron as a cockroach-munching nightclub owner.

Times reviewer Kevin Thomas wrote that the part of a boozy tourist business operator in the 1994 release “Leprechaun 2" was “one of the best movie roles ever for Baron . . . who’s perfectly cast as an outrageous yet endearing sharpie, a relentless con man with a Charles Bukowski seediness and street smarts.”

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Baron is survived by a sister, Roz Asherman, of New York; and two nieces. The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 Centinela Ave., Culver City. Contributions may be made to the National Emphysema Foundation.


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