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Comedian Tim Conway of The Carol Burnett Show dies at 85

Comedian Tim Conway of The Carol Burnett Show dies at 85
Entertainment
Tim Conway, the comedian’s comedian best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, died Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, his rep, Howard Bragman, confirmed to The Times. He was 85.

Conway died in a long-term care facility after suffering complications of hydrocephalus, Bragman said.

Still one of the funniest sketches in television history.

The actor claimed he was born funny: “I am not really qualified to do anything but screw up,” he told The Times in 2013.

Thomas Daniel Conway was born in Willoughby, Ohio, on Dec. 15, 1933, and grew up in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. His mother was a first-generation Romanian-American. His father was an immigrant from Ireland who trained polo ponies and racehorses.

Despite his small size, Conway was adept at gymnastics, football, basketball and baseball — an athleticism that he later put in the service of physical comedy.

His struggle with dyslexia seeded the idea for a future in comedy. “People thought that I was kidding when I would read out loud in school, so they started laughing,” Conway told the publication American Profile. “For instance, the book They Were Expendable, I read as They Were Expandable. People were going, ‘This guy is great!’ . . . I thought, ‘I must be funny, so I might as well continue with this.’ ”

After a stint on The Steve Allen Show, Conway came to prominence as a bumbling ensign in McHale’s Navy opposite Ernest Borgnine from 1962 to 1966.

The next year, The Carol Burnett Show premiered with Conway as a frequent guest star. The series, which ran until 1978, redefined his career as he played such characters as the Swedish American Mr. Tudball, but it took a long time for Conway to become a regular.

Fortunately, he had a knack for making costar Harvey Korman laugh. And Burnett. And just about anyone else who played opposite him in a skit on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1960s and ’70s. Audiences laughed, too.

In this Sept. 13, 2008 file photo, actor Tim Conway poses with his award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on 30 Rock in the press room at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.  (Matt Sayles / AP)

“All of a sudden in the ninth season of the show, we said, ‘Why don’t we have Tim on every week?’ ” Burnett told The Times in 2010. “He was already on about every other week. It was like ‘duh.’ ”

“This lady is responsible for my career,” Conway said in response.

Conway was an inveterate prankster who delighted in comic brinksmanship with Korman in particular. To that end, he hid his best comic ideas and script improvisations during rehearsals, unfurling them only during taping in front of a studio audience.

A dentist sketch has long been a staple of vaudeville routines, but Conway’s spin on it led to one of the most memorable scenes in TV comedy, a favourite of countless aspiring performers who praised his physical prowess and control.

Conway played a hapless dentist who pokes himself three times with the Novocain needle, while Korman, the helpless patient, looks on from the dental chair. Conway’s timing and matter-of-fact performance as a man left immobilized by his own incompetence left Korman desperately trying to suppress his laughter.

In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2004, Conway recalled that when he was cast in McHale’s Navy, he was a novice actor.

“I had no professional training at all,” he said. “I had a sense of humour and had been in front of a microphone, but as far as doing movies or series work or anything like that, I had no idea.”

Conway, who changed his first name from Thomas to Tim so as to avoid confusion with actor Tom Conway, had his own short-lived sitcom in 1970. He also starred in the Apple Dumpling Gang movies in the 1970s and made a string of DVDs, starting in the 1980s, as the 4-foot-tall athlete Dorf. He later gained fame with a new generation as the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants.

During his career, Conway won six Emmy Awards — four for the Carol Burnett Show — and a Golden Globe.

Conway s first marriage, to Mary Anne Dalton, with whom he had six children, ended in divorce. In 1984, he married Burnett s secretary, Charlene Fusco. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
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