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Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, 69; co-wrote and performed novelty hit ‘Monster Mash’

Times Staff Writer

Bobby “Boris” Pickett, whose Boris Karloff impersonation was immortalized in the novelty hit “Monster Mash,” which has become a Halloween perennial, has died. He was 69.

Pickett, a longtime resident of Santa Monica, died Wednesday of leukemia at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to his manager, Stuart Hersh.

“ ‘Monster Mash’ is the biggest Halloween song of all time. The song was spooky but nonthreatening, just a natural -- it had a good beat and was a great, fun idea,” said Barret Hansen, better known as syndicated radio host Dr. Demento, who has been spinning offbeat tunes since the 1970s.

The catchy song, about a mad professor who joins his latest creation to dance the “Monster Mash,” was the No. 1 song in the country on Halloween in 1962. Re-released twice, it cracked Billboard’s top 100 in 1970 and the top 10 in 1973.

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“It was huge to hear something that crazy on the radio in the 1970s, and it struck a responsive chord with me,” song parodist Weird Al Yankovic told The Times on Thursday. “ ‘Monster Mash’ and the other songs in his oeuvre partly inspired me to do what I do today.”

Inspired by the craze over a dance called the mashed potato, the song was written in a few hours by Pickett and a musical colleague, Leonard Capizzi.

Not only did “Monster Mash” catch on in a flash, its refrain -- accompanied by Pickett’s spirited Karloff impression -- was also destined to get stuck in the minds of generations to come:

He did the mash.

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He did the monster mash.

The monster mash,

It was a graveyard smash....

The tune turned him into “the Guy Lombardo of Halloween,” Pickett told the Boston Globe in 1989, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Outfitted in a lab coat stained with fake blood, Pickett often introduced “Monster Mash” at oldies concerts by saying, “I’d like to perform a medley of my hit,” Hansen told The Times.

Although Pickett never again achieved the success of “Monster Mash,” the Christmas sequel “Monster’s Holiday” reached No. 30 on the charts in December 1962. His “Stardrek,” which spoofs a “Star Trek” episode, was also the most-requested tune on Dr. Demento’s show in 1976.

Robert George Pickett was born Feb. 11, 1938, in Somerville, Mass. His father managed a movie theater, so Pickett grew up watching movies about Dracula and Frankenstein, and developed the Boris Karloff impression that earned him his nickname.

In the 1950s, he came to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He did television commercials, got bit parts and joined the Cordials, a doo-wop group led by Capizzi.

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When the group sang the 1950s hit “Little Darling” by the Diamonds, Pickett would slip in a comic impersonation of Karloff, which inspired them to write “Monster Mash.”

“I haven’t made millions,” Pickett told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 1998. “But I have been paying the rent for 36 years with this one song.”

He is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren and a sister.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com


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