Gallagher, the standup comedian who rose to fame in the 1980s with a prop-heavy act highlighted by the smashing of watermelons onstage, died Friday at the age of 76, his manager confirmed.
The comedian died in Palm Springs, where he’d been in hospice care, following several years of declining health.
“After a short health battle, Gallagher, born Leo Gallagher, succumbed to his ailments and passed away surrounded by his family in Palm Springs, California,” talent manager Roger Paul said in a statement provided to City News Service. “He had previously suffered numerous heart attacks, something he and David Letterman talked about on an appearance a few years back.
“…Gallagher rose to fame from a clever bit he did with a hand-made sledgehammer he dubbed the `Sledge-O-Matic’, at which the end of the bit he would smash food onstage and spray it into the audience. That was something else he liked to claim credit for, which was physically engaging the audience in that manner,” the statement continued.
“…While his counterparts went on to do sitcoms, host talk shows and star in movies, Gallagher stayed on the road touring America for decades. He was pretty sure he held a record for the most stand up dates, by attrition alone. He toured steadily until the Covid-19 pandemic,” Paul continued. “… While Gallagher had his detractors, he was an undeniable talent and an American success story.”
Gallagher had suffered heart attacks in 2011 and 2012. His manager Craig Marquardo told NBC News that he died of massive organ failure.
Born in North Carolina, Gallagher attended high school and college in Florida, earning a chemical engineering degree in 1970. He appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson as early as 1975, but his real fame came after he began recording standup specials on cable television in the early 1980s.
The shows built to a climax in which Gallagher would smash watermelons and other fruit, with the wet shrapnel splashing onto fans in the front rows. Audience members with tickets for those rows eventually starting wearing rain slickers and other protective gear to his shows, getting into the spirit of the act.