Gallagher, the standup comedian who rose to fame in the 1980s with a prop-heavy act highlighted by smashing watermelons onstage, was being remembered as “inventive,” “difficult” and “unforgettable” following his death at age 76.
“He was a one of a kind,” podcaster Marc Maron tweeted. “A singular entertainer. A difficult man. RIP Gallagher (if possible).”
“I loved Gallagher as a kid, what a weird combination of smart one liners and smashing fruit,” comedian Christopher Titus wrote on Twitter. “I think he got locked in, that was his “Gilligan” bit, and people demanded it. I met him at baggage claim at LAX, he wasn’t nice. but RIP anyway.”
Gallagher died Friday 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 made well-received appearances in the 70s on such shows as Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show” and “The Merv Griffin Show.” He became a household name with his 1980 Showtime special “An Uncensored Evening,” said to have been the first comedy stand up special ever to air on cable television.
He suffered heart attacks in 2011 and 2012. His former manager, Craig Marquardo told NBC News Gallagher died of massive organ failure.
Born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Gallagher attended high school and college in Florida, earning a chemical engineering degree in 1970.
Known for his trademark mustache and shoulder-length hair, often topped with a cap or beret, Gallagher traveled with 15 footlockers filled with props, including a “handgun” that fired plastic hands. He dubbed himself “The Wizard of Odd.”
His 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.
In his later years, Gallagher at times faced criticism and show cancellations for including jokes about racial groups, gay people and women that some felt crossed a line.
Gallagher’s survivors include a son, Barnaby, and a daughter, Aimee Rose.