Tim Conway dies; ‘Carol Burnett Show’ star and comedian’s comedian was 85
Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian Tim Conway in his Los Angeles area home, in advance of his new autobiography, “What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life.”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Tim Conway, left, and former Calif. Gov.Gray Davis tape a skit for a television show during halftime of the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 30, 2004 in Los Angeles.(Vince Bucci / Getty Images)
Comedian Tim Conway enjoys himself listening to Phyllis Diller while flying to Las Vegas on Wayne Newton’s private jet.(Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times)
Comedian Tim Conway in his Los Angeles home in 2013.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Carol Burnett shares a laugh with Tim Conway during the taping of her final show, in Los Angeles.(George Brich / Associated Press)
Skit from “The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special” featuring original cast members, from left, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Carol Burnett.(CBS)
Scene from “McHale’s Navy,” starring Ernest Borgnine, center. At right is Tim Conway.(ABC)
Comedians Tim Conway, left, and Harvey Korman pose with their awards at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ 15th snnual Hall of Fame ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Nov. 6, 2002, in Beverly Hills.(Vince Bucci / Getty Images)
Cast members accept the Legend Award for “The Carol Burnett Show” onstage at the 2005 TV Land Awards at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica.(Vince Bucci / Getty Images)
Television personality Kathie Lee Gifford with actor Tim Conway, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Arts 2nd Annual Candlelight Forum awards evening held at the DGA Theatre in Hollywood.(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)
A photo used to promote “The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special.” Pictured, clockwise from left, are Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett.(CBS)
Tim Conway, the comedian’s comedian best known for his work on “The Carol Burnett Show,” died Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, his rep, Howard Bragman, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times. He was 85.
Conway died in a long-term-care facility after suffering complications of hydrocephalus, Bragman said. He also had dementia.
“I’m heartbroken,” Carol Burnett told The Times in a statement Tuesday.
“He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being,” she said. “I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”
The comedian said he was born funny: “I am not really qualified to do anything but screw up,” Conway told The Times in 2013.
He was born Thomas Conway on Dec. 15, 1933, in a Cleveland suburb and grew up an only child in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He began making his classmates laugh, a habit that continued at Bowling Green State University, where he majored in speech and radio.
In the early 1950s, Conway did a stint in the U.S. Army, based in Washington state. “When the Army gives you a rifle, they expect you to take care of it and go to bed with it!” he told The Times in 2010. Conway, naturally, goofed that up.
“I was on guard duty one night, and I decided to take a little nap on the back of the car. So I got into the car and fell asleep. I woke up and I thought, ‘Oh my God. It’s 4 in the morning and the lieutenant is going to be coming around to check.’ I ran to my post and I realized I had forgotten my rifle in the car,” he said.
“So I looked in the garbage and there was this long neon tube. So I took that,” he added. “As the lieutenant came around the corner. I said, ‘Halt.’ I am pointing this bulb at him and he said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘It’s a light bulb and if you come any closer, I’ll turn it on.’
“He had very little sense of humor,” Conway said. “I spent an extra two weeks [in the service] painting rocks in Seattle.”
Conway changed his first name from Thomas to Tim, to avoid confusion with actor Tom Conway, who had made dozens of films in the ’40s and ’50s and died in 1967.
He worked in Cleveland radio, and by the late 1950s Conway’s quirky sensibilities had found a home on local television. After a stint on “The Steve Allen Show” in New York, Conway came to prominence on television as a bumbling ensign in “McHale’s Navy” opposite Ernest Borgnine from 1962 to 1966.
A year later, “The Carol Burnett Show” premiered with Conway as a frequent guest star. The series, which ran until 1978, redefined his career as he played such characters as the Swedish American Mr. Tudball, but it took a long time for Conway to become a regular.
Fortunately, he had a knack for making costar Harvey Korman, who died in 2008, laugh. And Burnett. And just about anyone else who played opposite him in a skit on “The Carol Burnett Show” in the 1960s and ’70s. Audiences laughed too.
“All of a sudden, in the ninth season of the show, we said, ‘Why don’t we have Tim on every week?’ ” Burnett told The Times in 2010. “He was already on about every other week. It was like ‘duh.’ ”
“This lady is responsible for my career,” Conway said in response.
“Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable... all synonyms for Tim Conway,” fellow “Carol Burnett Show” alum Vicki Lawrence said in a statement Tuesday. “I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him. Harvey and Tim are together again...the angels are laughing out loud tonight.”
Conway said in a 1993 interview with The Times that he always knew when Korman was going to lose it on the show. “[H]e kind of had a little vocal hum, like it was boiling inside. I was a writer, and I would write one thing and would say something else. Harvey knew he was in trouble. It was very easy to confuse [him].”
The actor had his own short-lived sitcom in 1970. He also starred in the “Apple Dumpling Gang” movies in the 1970s and made a string of DVDs, starting in the 1980s, as the 4-foot-tall athlete Dorf. He later gained fame with a new generation as the voice of Barnacle Boy on “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
In 2013, he released “What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life,” which he co-wrote with Jane Scovell. The memoir was warm, witty and often laugh-out-loud funny, according to former Times staff writer Susan King.
Conway believed that “The Carol Burnett Show,” which reached No. 13 in the ratings, endured because it didn’t offend anyone.
“All comedy is vicious anyway,” he told The Times in 1993, after the cast reunited for a special to mark the show’s 25th anniversary. “You are targeting somebody, but we almost always targeted ourselves. The audience kind of laughed at themselves through us. Carol never got into making barbs about politics. It was all just good fun.”
During his career, Conway won six Emmy Awards — four of them for his work on “The Carol Burnett Show” — and a Golden Globe.
“The amount of joy Tim Conway brought my family as a child was immeasurable,” filmmaker Judd Apatow said Tuesday on Twitter. “The man was pure comedy. Riotously funny. I finally got to see him work when he guest starred on The Larry Sanders Show and he was all I dreamed he would be. As kind as he was funny. He will be missed.”
Comic and late-night host Conan O’Brien tweeted, “When I was a kid watching ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ no one made me laugh harder than Tim Conway. What a sweet and effortlessly funny man.”
Times staff writers Nardine Saad and Scott Sandell contributed to this report.
Former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton’s tell-all book “Ball Four,” which detailed Mickey Mantle’s carousing and the use of stimulants in the major leagues, shocked and angered the baseball world. The right-hander was an All-Star in 1963, going 21-8 with six shutouts, but he finished his 10-year career with a 62-63 record and 3.57 ERA. He was 80.(AP)
Billionaire Ross Perot blazed across America in the 1990s as a third-party presidential candidate and won nearly 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 election, finishing third behind Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican President George H.W. Bush. The diminutive Texan was an early tech entrepreneur who founded Electronic Data Systems, a computer services company, in 1962 with $1,000 in savings. He was 89.(Peter Muhly / AFP/Getty Images)
Lee A. Iacocca’s swaggering persona dominated the automobile industry like nobody since Henry Ford. The salesman extraordinaire had a spectacular career, punctuated by his role as father of the wildly popular Ford Mustang in 1964, his epic 1978 firing at the hands of Henry Ford II and his dramatic rescue of Chrysler in the early 1980s. He was 94.(Associated Press)
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Italian director Franco Zeffirelli was best-known for his films, including the 1968 critical and box office hit “Romeo and Juliet” and a 1990 “Hamlet” with Mel Gibson. His massive opera productions included a version of Puccini’s “La Boheme” that became the most-often presented production in the Metropolitan Opera’s history. He was 96.(Paolo Cocco / AFP/Getty Images)
Danish-born socialite Claus von Bulow, left, shown with attorney Alan Dershowitz in April 1985, was convicted in 1982 and then acquitted three years later on two counts of attempting to murder his American heiress wife, Sunny, with injections of insulin. The high-profile case has been called one of the most sensational courtroom dramas in modern U.S. history. He was 92.(Charles Krupa / AP)
Bill Buckner’s 22-year Major League Baseball career started with the Dodgers and included seasons with the Cubs and Red Sox. He had more than 2,700 career hits and won the National League batting title in 1980, but he was best known for an error in the 1986 World Series that allowed the Mets to win Game 6 and extend Boston’s championship drought. He was 69.(AP)
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Tim Conway came to prominence on television as a bumbling ensign in “McHale’s Navy” opposite Ernest Borgnine from 1962 to 1966, then became a regular on “The Carol Burnett Show,” where he famously developed a knack for making costar Harvey Korman crack up. He also starred in the “Apple Dumpling Gang” movies in the 1970s and gained fame with a new generation as the voice of Barnacle Boy on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” He was 85.(George Brich / AP)
Doris Day was a big-band singer who became a Hollywood star in such lighthearted movies as “Pillow Talk” (1959) and “Lover Come Back” (1961), two of the three films she made with Rock Hudson. From 1948 to 1968, Day appeared in 39 films, but in the early 1970s she walked away from Hollywood and spent most of her time in Carmel, where she was an animal rights activist. She was 97.(AP)
Actress Peggy Lipton rose to stardom in the late 1960s on the counterculture police series “The Mod Squad” and later starred on TV’s “Twin Peaks.” Over five seasons, “Mod Squad” earned Lipton four Emmy nominations and a 1971 Golden Globe award for best actress in a TV drama. The wife of music producer Quincy Jones and mother of Kidada and Rashida Jones, Lipton was 72.(ABC)
Peter Mayhew played the Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Standing at 7 feet 3, the British actor brought the character to life physically, whether battling Stormtroopers alongside Han Solo or playing chess against R2-D2. He was 74.(AP)
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John Havlicek, shown above dribbling against Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks, was the all-time leading scorer in Boston Celtics history. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984, Havlicek played all 16 of his professional seasons in Boston from 1962-1978, winning NBA titles in each of his eight Finals appearances, including five over the Lakers. He was 79.
Charles Van Doren was one of the first intellectual stars of the television era as a contestant on the NBC show “Twenty One,” but quickly became the country’s leading villain after admitting that his winning streak had been rigged. After he and nine other game show contestants pleaded guilty to perjury and were given suspended sentences, Van Doren slipped into obscurity and became an editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was 93.(Hulton Archive / TNS)
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Sidney Sheinberg, right, with Steven Spielberg and Lea Adler, Spielberg’s mother, at a 1994 Beverly Hilton gala.
(Shepler, Lori / Los Angeles Times)
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André Previn conquered L.A. with his artistic genius twice: first as an Academy Award winning composer of Hollywood movie music, then as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A conductor and pianist who toggled between classical, pop and jazz, Previn won Oscars for “My Fair Lady” (1964), “Irma la Douce” (1963), “Gigi” (1958) and “Porgy and Bess” (1959). He was 89.(Patrick Downs/ Los Angeles Times)
Guitarist Peter Tork, far right, became an overnight star in 1966 as one of the Monkees. Critics derided the made-for-television rock band as the “Prefab Four,” but their slapstick NBC comedy series helped make them a phenomenon and foreshadowed the craze for music television that emerged in the early 1980s. He was 77.(Michael Ochs Archives)
Dodgers right-hander Don Newcombe was the first outstanding African American pitcher in the major leagues and in 1949 became the first to start a World Series game. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound hurler was also the first player in major league history to have won the rookie of the year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards. He was 92.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Michigan Democrat John Dingell Jr. used his considerable power in the House of Representatives to uncover government fraud and defend the interests of the automobile industry. Known as “Big John” and “The Truck” for his forceful nature and 6-foot-3-inch frame, Dingell was the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history. He was 92.(Win McNamee / Getty Images)
Albert Finney starred in films as diverse as “Tom Jones,” “Annie” and “Skyfall.” One of the most versatile actors of his generation, he played an array of roles, including Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, a southern American lawyer and an Irish gangster. He was 82.(Graham Barclay / For The Times)
Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson was the only major leaguer to be named most valuable player in both the National and American leagues. One of baseball’s most feared sluggers, he became the first African American to manage in the big leagues in 1975, when he filled that position for the Cleveland Indians. He was 83.(Richard Stacks / TNS)
Michelle King was the first African American woman to lead Los Angeles Unified School District. Her major accomplishment was pushing the graduation rate to record levels by allowing students to quickly make up credits for failed classes. She was 57.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Grammy-winning singer and songwriter James Ingram topped the charts in the ‘80s with hits like “Baby, Come to Me” and “Somewhere Out There.” He also co-wrote the Michael Jackson hit “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” He was 66.(Stefano Paltera / AP)
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Carol Channing was a Broadway star best known for her enduring portrayal of the title character in the musical “Hello, Dolly!” A winner of three Tony Awards, including one for lifetime achievement, she appeared in the play at least 5,000 times. She was 97.(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Mary Oliver, one of the country’s most popular poets, focused on spirituality, nature and New England. Her poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and the National Book Award in 1992. She was 83.(Josh Reynolds / For the Times)
Herb Kelleher built Southwest Airlines into the biggest discount carrier and set the standard for budget air travel for more than three decades. He and co-founder Rollin King used a formula of short, no-frills trips that spawned dozens of imitators. He was 87.(Ed Betz / AP)
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