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Jackie Kahane; Comedian Opened for Elvis Presley

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elvis Presley called him “Mr. Kahane.”

His job, as he put it, was “to stay up there until the dessert is served.”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 4, 2001 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 4, 2001 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Presley concerts--The Times’ March 28 obituary of Jackie Kahane, a comedian who was the opening act for Elvis Presley for the last seven years of the singer’s life, incorrectly stated that Presley made two appearances, 18 years apart, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Presley played the arena for four shows over three nights, only in 1972.

Or whatever else it took--like getting booed off the stage in Madison Square Garden by a churlish crowd weary of waiting to see the King.

Jackie Kahane, the stand-up comedian who opened for Presley for seven years before the singer’s death in 1977, died Monday in Encino of cancer. He was 79.

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Personally close to Presley, Kahane traveled the world with the legendary singer and delivered a stirring eulogy at his funeral.

The booing in the New York arena was one of the most painful in Kahane’s six-decade career. The crowd was impatient to see Presley, who had last appeared in Madison Square Garden 18 years earlier.

A series of warmup acts left the stage, and the audience was in no mood to be put off further by Kahane’s jokes, the Canadian-born comic told The Times in 1979 for an article on the lives of second bananas.

“I stood out there for a while and then said, ‘So, this is New York. The odds are 18,000 to 1. Thank you and good night.’ Backstage, Elvis grabbed me and shook his head [and said] ‘Mr. Kahane, Jesus Christ couldn’t have gone out there tonight ahead of me.’ ”

Kahane was handpicked as Presley’s opening act by the star’s paternalistic manager, Col. Tom Parker, who heard him warming up a Las Vegas crowd for Wayne Newton.

“When I worked for Wayne Newton, the orders were never to say ‘damn’ and ‘hell,’ and I got known as a clean act,” Kahane recalled. “Col. Parker liked that. He told me, ‘We play to a family audience. You don’t do any off-color material, and that’s why we hired you.’ ”

The comic’s usual opening act for Presley was 18 minutes, but Kahane said that stretched to 45 minutes in the last two years of the singer’s life, when Presley required more and more time to prepare for the stage.

Kahane also warmed up audiences for Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Sophie Tucker and Joe E. Lewis, among others. He also was a guest on television variety and talk shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and David Frost.

After Presley’s death, Kahane became a favorite at Friar’s Club roasts and charity events around the country, and at Elvis Presley memorial events.

Born near Montreal, Kahane became a druggist before going into show business. He paid his dues in clubs of the Catskill Mountains resorts and toured with the Will Mastin Trio and Sammy Davis Jr.

In 1961, Time magazine chose him, along with Bill Cosby, as one of the year’s outstanding young comedians, a designation that remained one of Kahane’s favorite lifetime achievements.

Kahane is survived by his wife, Rosanna; two daughters, Giselle Vogel and Karen Kahane; and two grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for noon today in Mt. Sinai Memorial Park.


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