Rip Taylor, the exuberant comedian whose zany shtick and over-the-top delivery made him a television and nightclub mainstay for more than six decades, has died. He was 84.
Taylor died Sunday in Beverly Hills, publicist Harlan Boll announced.
Taylor became a comedy legend through pure exhilaration. Believing that the more exaggerated the gag, the bigger the laugh, he overemphasized everything, from his shaggy blonde toupee and bushy mustache to the campy props that were the basis of his bits. His jokes were far from cutting edge, but he would deliver them with such shrieking gusto, it was hard not to howl.
The self-described “King of Confetti,” Taylor was famous for dousing his audience with buckets of colored paper, and anyone attending a Rip Taylor performance expected to be wearing confetti by the end of it.
As he explained during a 2011 interview with Kliph Nesteroff for the Classic Television Showbiz blog, his signature gag came about purely by accident.
“I did props and I was ‘The Prop Comedian.’ I was dying like hell on Merv Griffin’s show. The jokes were dumb, and I tore the 5 x 8 cards, threw them up in the air and it became confetti,” he recalled. “I knocked over his desk, walked up the aisle, went to Sardi’s and said, ‘Well, that’s the end of my television career.’ I went home that night. Their switchboard had lit up. They said, ‘Get the guy that went crazy!’ And that is how the confetti started.”
One of his more memorable big-screen appearances came when he played himself in (1993). A quest by Wayne (Mike Myers) to put on WayneStock, the ultimate music festival, gains stature when Taylor agrees to attend as a special guest.
“Rip Taylor’s going to be there,” he tells Cassandra Wong (Tia Carrere), trying to convince her to perform. “Rip Taylor? He’s a god in my country,” she says. “He gets mobbed in the street.”
He also appeared as himself in the first three movies.
Tailor-made for television, he racked up more than 2,000 small-screen credits during his career, according to RipTaylor.com, with dozens of mayhem-filled appearances on and alone.
His rapid-fire delivery, biting sarcasm and self-deprecating humor also made him the perfect game show guest, and he regularly showed up on , and
Chuck Barris took a liking to Taylor when he sat in as a panelist on , and when the game show guru conceived of a program to parody Miss America pageants, he tapped Taylor to host it.
Certainly one of the oddest shows ever produced, featured six contestants of all shapes and sizes competing in talent and swimsuit competitions. When the winner was selected by three celebrity judges who never said a word, she was handed a gaudy Statue of Liberty crown, a bouquet of wilting vegetables and a cash price of $1.98, which Taylor would count out in change from a coin dispenser attached to his belt.
“You win the prize. You take the cake. You get the crown and a dollar ninety eight,” Taylor would warble as the winner strutted down the “Plank of Pulchritude” to applause.
Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. was born on Jan. 13, 1935, in Washington, D.C. His father was a musician, his mother a waitress. As a teen, he attended the Capitol Page School and served as a congressional page.
“Can you imagine what I do now and what I did then?” Taylor said during a 1990 interview with Skip E. Lowe. “I knew I was a ham in those hallways because you had to wear a black suit and black knickers. And you’d all have to go under the catacombs to get to the Senate office building, the House office building and Supreme Court to get a document for the congressman and the senator. But I went straight through the rotunda with all the tourists. I would say, ‘Paging Senator Bilbo,’ who was hot at the time. He was the one in the papers. I was so hammy even then. I knew I was going to be in show business someday.”
After enlisting in the U.S. Army, he was assigned to the Signal Corps but ended up in special services, where he entertained the troops during his tours of Tokyo and Korea.
When he returned to civilian life, Taylor focused on a nightclub career, and his early act consisted of pantomiming records (his favorites were Yiddish folk songs and Spike Jones tunes). “It’s easier using someone else’s talent,” he said. “Long story short … the record machine broke one day, and I haven’t shut up since.”
Taylor played strip clubs up and down the East Coast in the mid-1950s before coming up with his first signature bit: crying. He found out that if he’d hold a handkerchief to his face and pretend to bawl, he’d get a bigger laugh. More upscale bookings followed, and he played all over Miami Beach.
He also was a regular in the Catskills. Once, he got wind that a booking agent from was going to attend his show, so he spent a week’s salary plying the audience with champagne so they would loosen up and get loud.
“As I made my entrance that night … ‘Here’s tonight’s comic, Rip Taylor’ … they all applauded,” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Not now! At the finish!’ He [the booking agent]was in on the joke. And that’s how I got the show [in 1961].”
And thanks to Sullivan, everyone soon knew Taylor by his signature bit. When the host forgot Taylor’s name and couldn’t read the cue card, he introduced him as “The Crying Comedian.”
“It’s as simple as that. Same jokes that I did at 3 o’clock, I did at 8 o’clock, and I became ‘The Crying Comedian,’ ” Taylor said during his ClassicShowBiz interview. “You can’t make that shit up! I mean, that’s ridiculous! People forget your name, but they remember, ‘Oh, get the guy that does that! Get the guy that does that thing!’ ”
Taylor was soon crying his way to the top. He made multiple appearances on Jackie Gleason’s variety show, and Sullivan kept inviting him back. Eleanor Powell hired him to open for her in Las Vegas, and he went on to kick things off for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Ann-Margret, Debbie Reynolds, Frankie Laine, Judy Garland and The Kingston Trio. (He was named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year three times in the ’70s.)
In 1967, Taylor showed up as a sobbing casino manager on an episode of . “Oh, officer, thank goodness you’re here,” he says to a police detective called to investigate a rigged roulette wheel. “I just found this wire attached to the wheel. And whenever I’d shift my stick, the house would lose a bet. Could you die?”
He later played Alice’s (Ann B. Davis) love interest on 1977’s , Uncle Fester on a 1992 animated version of and chef “Rappin’ Rip” on .
Among his film credits were (1977), a comedy about a talking vagina; (1977); (1980), in which he portrayed a goofy maître d’; (1992); (1993); and (1994).
In 1979, Taylor made his Broadway debut in , replacing Mickey Rooney in the lead. He toured the country playing Fagin in , Captain Hook in and Pseudolus in . In 2010, he debuted , a one-man show, at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
He was the subject of a 2016 documentary, .
Taylor, who kept his personal life private, was briefly married to Rusty Rowe, a Vegas showgirl, before they divorced. When author Brent Hartinger referred to him as “openly gay” in 2008, he reported that the comedian sent him a terse reply.
“You don’t know me to summarize that I am openly gay,” Taylor wrote. “I don’t know that you’re not an openly heroin user. You see how that works? Think before you write.”
Survivors include his longtime partner, Robert Fortney. In lieu of flowers, a donations can be made to the Thalians.
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