Louie Anderson, the brilliant comedian, actor and television host who won an Emmy Award for his work on the series “Baskets” and two Daytime Emmys for his animated children’s show, “Life With Louie”, died Friday in Las Vegas . He was 68 years old.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his longtime publicist, Glenn Schwartz, who said the cause was complications from diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.
In an entertainment career that spanned more than four decades, Mr Anderson had a self-deprecating style that won him legions of fans, including Henny Youngman and Johnny Carson, whose early support catapulted him to celebrity status.
In 1981, Mr. Anderson was among the best in a comedy competition organized by Mr. Youngman, who then hired him. as a writer.
Mr. Anderson made his national TV debut on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Mr. Carson in 1984 and, as the comedians say, he killed it. The routine was full of jokes about his own weight (which sometimes topped 300 pounds), and he had the audience screaming from his deadpan first line, “I can’t stay long. I am between meals.
Afterwards, Mr. Carson brought him out for a second arc, a rarity for comic books and especially those debuting. As Mr. Anderson said, Mr. Carson later gave him another great compliment.
“He came to my dressing room on his way to his, stuck his head in it, and said, ‘Great shot, Louie,'” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002. “Because the comics call it a ‘hit’ on ‘The Tonight Show.’ And that was huge for me.
Mr. Anderson went from earning $500 a week for his stand-up work to earning double that in one night, he said. And film and television work began to come his way, including small roles in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and “Coming to America” (1988). In 1987, Showtime aired a comedy special that captivated him during a performance at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Reviewing the show for The New York Times, John J. O’Connor wrote, “In an age when comedians rely on desperate measures to establish stage identity — think of Howie Mandel engaging in childish cries or Sam Kinison faking a nervous breakdown — Mr. Anderson has developed a low-key act that might fit comfortably into the family entertainment category.
He added: “In an age when stand-up comedy traffics in insults, hysteria and sexual obsessions, Mr. Anderson seems to have found something truly different – old-fashioned, heartwarming humor.”
It would be his bread and butter for his entire career, although he took it in some interesting directions. “Life With Louie,” which ran from 1994 to 1998 and won him Daytime Emmys in 1997 and 1998 as Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program, was a savvy kids’ show that also had an audience adult; its main character, a child, dealt with an assortment of issues at home and on the playground.
On “Baskets,” an acclaimed comedy drama that ran from 2016 to 2019 and starred Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Anderson, in drag, played the mother of twin brothers played by Mr. Galifianakis. Mr. Anderson has been nominated for a supporting actor Emmy for the role three times, winning in 2016.
In a 1996 interview with The Orlando Sentinel, he reflected on his calling.
“People are comfortable with me on stage,” he said. “There is nothing detestable in my comedy. I look at it from the point of view of humanity. I’m just kind of like, “Hey, we’re all in this together,” and so they feel comfortable inviting me into their living room.
Louis Perry Anderson was born on March 24, 1953 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His mother, Zella, was a housewife and his father, Louis, was a jazz musician.
He graduated from St. Paul’s High School and had a job as a troubled youth counselor when his career path changed due to a challenge.
“I went out one night with some guys from work and we saw a few comedians,” he said in a 1987 interview with The Post-Standard of Syracuse, NY “I noticed that none of them was very funny, and everyone started telling me to ride myself if I thought I could do better.
“The joke kind of escalated over time,” he continued, “and finally one night I got up on stage. Once I did, I found that I I really liked it. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
He started out working in comedy clubs in Minnesota, then branched out to Chicago and other midtown cities in America. At the 1981 Midwest Comedy Competition in St. Louis, he did well enough to impress the show’s host, Mr. Youngman, who hired him as a writer and boosted his confidence.
“He helped me learn to write really good lyrics and he encouraged me to stay in comedy,” Mr. Anderson said of Mr. Youngman. “I was at this point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.”
Carson’s appearance in 1984 helped make him a headliner, and he worked regularly in Las Vegas and other major comedy towns, touring for a time with Roseanne Barr. A 1996 sitcom, “The Louie Show”, on which he played a psychotherapist. only lasted six episodes despite a supporting cast that included Bryan Cranston, but Mr. Anderson frequently guest-starred on other series and was a staple on late-night talk shows. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was the host of the game show “Family Feud.”
He was also an author. His stand-up comedy drew heavily on his family in a light-hearted way, but his books had a more serious element. “Dear Dad: Letters From an Adult Child” (1989) was a series of letters to his father that discussed, among other things, his father’s alcoholism.
“I remember coming home from school and knowing when I walked through the door if you were drunk or not – without even seeing anyone,” he wrote. “That’s how sensitive I think I’ve become.”
As his stand-up career progressed, Mr. Anderson recalled the jokes about his weight, and his book Goodbye Jumbo… Hello Cruel World, published in 1993, was an honest look at his food addiction. “The F Word: How to Survive Your Family” (2002) and “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, but You Can Read Them Too” (2018) also had serious intent.
Mr. Anderson was one of 11 children. His survivors include his sisters Lisa and Shanna Anderson, Mr. Schwartz said.
Mr Anderson said he based parts of his “Sneakers” character on his mother. In “Hey Mom”, he addressed her directly.
“I guess I must believe in the afterlife if I’m writing to you and talking to you and my face is still looking up at the sky,” he wrote. “If there is is an afterlife, I hope there’s a big comfy chair, because I know you like that, and a good creamer for your coffee, and a TV showing old reruns.
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.