Comedian Tim Conway dies at 85
LOS ANGELES — Tim Conway, the impish second banana to Carol Burnett who won four Emmy Awards on her TV variety show, starred aboard “McHale’s Navy” and later voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for “Spongebob Squarepants,” has died. He was 85.
Conway died Tuesday morning in a Los Angeles care facility, according to Howard Bragman, who heads LaBrea Media. Conway’s wife, Charlene Fusco, and a daughter, Jackie, were at his side. The cause was a disorder in which there is an excess of fluid on the brain, Bragman said.
Burnett said in a statement Tuesday that she was heartbroken. “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.”
Tributes also came from across the comedy world, including from Conan O’Brien, who said “no one made me laugh harder than Tim Conway” and Kathy Griffin, who called him “a wildly talented, comedy giant.” Al Roker tweeted out a link to Conway playing a hysterically incompetent dentist.
A native of Ohio, Conway credited his Midwestern roots for putting him on the right path to laughs, with his deadpan expression and innocent, simple-minded demeanor.
“I think the Midwest is the heart of comedy in this country, and a little bit of the South, too,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2005. “For some reason, we’re just more laid-back, more understanding. … And Midwesterners have a kinder sense of humor.”
Those qualities probably contributed to his wide popularity on “The Carol Burnett Show,” which he joined in 1975 after years as a frequent guest. The show aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978 and had a short summer stint on ABC in 1979.
“We really didn’t attack people or politics or religion or whatever. We just made fun of, basically, ourselves,” he said.
The show operated with just five writers, one producer, one director and without network interference. The ensemble cast surrounding the redheaded star included Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner.
“I don’t think the network would allow a show like ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ now because we had such freedom,” Conway said in his interview with the State Journal.
Lawrence on Tuesday mourned the passing of her co-star, saying in a statement that “the angels are laughing out loud.”
“Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable… all synonyms for Tim Conway. I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him.”
While America was laughing at Conway, so were his co-stars: Burnett and Harvey Korman were often caught by the camera trying not to crack up during his performances.
The short, nondescript Conway and the tall, imposing Korman were a physical mismatch made in comedy heaven. They toured the country for years with a sketch show called “Together Again,” which drew on characters from Burnett’s show.
Besides the four Emmys he won with Burnett (three as a performer, one as a writer), he won Emmys for guest appearances in 1996 for “Coach” and in 2008 for “30 Rock.”