Tim Conway, the master physical comedian and improv artist whose on-camera antics often left his “Carol Burnett Show” co-stars struggling — usually unsuccessfully — to suppress their laughter, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 85.
The entertainer’s death was confirmed to City News Service by his longtime publicist, Howard Bragman. Conway “died at 8:45 a.m. in Los Angeles after a long-term illness,” Bragman said.
Conway was a cast member on the 1961-62 ABC variety series, “The Steve Allen Show” before landing the role of bumbling Ensign Charles Beaumont Parker on the 1962-66 ABC comedy “McHale’s Navy.”
In the 1970s, he became a fixture on “The Carol Burnett Show,” where he was known for creating such memorable characters as the Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball and his gift for ad-libbing and on-set pranks.
He was notorious for cracking up his co-stars, most notably Harvey Korman, who was said to have actually wet his pants during a scene in which Conway portrayed a dentist treating Korman.
“I’m heartbroken,” Burnett said in a statement released by her publicist. “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”
In his 11 years on the show, Conway won four Emmys and a Golden Globe Award. He later won Emmys for guest appearances on “30 Rock” and “Coach.”
Conway also starred as the title character in the “Dorf” comedy films and specials and voiced the character of Barnacle Boy in the animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
A tongue-in-cheek bio on his official website, attributed to Conway himself, says: “I was born and then I did `The Carol Burnett Show’ for eleven years. What else is there to know? I have six Emmy’s. Big deal. I am also in The Comedy Hall of Fame, it was a natural since I spent a lot of my time in grade school out in the hall. I went to Bowling Green State University for eleven years. A very slow lerner (I proof read my bio). I was in the army (ours) for two years and was in `McHales Navy’ for three years. That is a total of five years of service. My ambition was to be a jockey, but at my weight, even the horses were asking me to get off. I have seven children, two grand children and a puppy. I have been married since 1984, a record for Hollywood. I do not have a serious thought in my head. Enjoy the show.”
The Willoughby, Ohio, native studied television and radio at Bowling State University and, after serving in the Army, began his entertainment career by landing a job at a local TV station in Cleveland.
He is survived by his wife, Charlene, a stepdaughter and six children from his first marriage, including KFI-AM (640) talk show host Tim Conway Jr. and his daughter Kelly Conway, who had battled her stepmother in court over his care.
On March 27, a settlement was reached between Conway’s wife and daughter that included an agreement that his spouse be named his permanent conservator. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that the conservatorship was warranted and that Conway, who underwent brain surgery last September, was unable to make his own healthcare decisions.
Kelly Conway started the legal battle in 2018, maintaining her father had dementia and that she should be named his permanent conservator. In the final months of his life, Conway was bedridden and unable to speak and under 24-hour care at a rehabilitation facility, according to court papers.
In lieu of flowers, Conway’s family asked that donations be made to The Lou Ruvo Brain Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Comedians young and old hailed Conway as a major influence on their careers.
“When I was a kid watching `The Carol Burnett Show,’ no one made me laugh harder than Tim Conway,” Conan O’Brien wrote on his Twitter page. “What a sweet and effortlessly funny man.”
O’Brien’s talk-show sidekick, Andy Richter, called Conway one of his heroes, and said he performed a sketch with him at a New York comedy festival.
“When we met to `rehearse,’ he made me laugh for a solid hour,” Richter wrote. “He didn’t have to. For him to treat me as even close to an equal will always be a cherished honor.”
Writer-director Judd Apatow wrote, “The amount of joy Tim Conway brought my family as a child was immeasurable. 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.”
Comedian Ruth Buzzi also hailed Conway, writing, “You loved everyone you met and we loved you back. You were funny off camera without always being `on.’ You were a gentleman without a single mark against your good name. You were a comedy giant in the nice, compact-sized version. I will miss you.”
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