Comedian, Actor Alan King Dies at 76
NEW YORK – For comedian Alan King, nobody was out of bounds when it came to humor. Not even a sitting queen. Once, after performing for Queen Elizabeth II in London, the comedian was introduced to Britain’s monarch. “How do you do, Mr. King?” she asked him. “How do you do, Mrs. Queen?” he replied.
“She stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed,” King recalled. “Thank God Prince Philip laughed.”
King, whose cutting wisecracks about suburbia, marriage and modern life struck a chord both with the blue bloods and those with blue collars, died Sunday. He was 76.
Comedian Jerry Stiller, who knew King for more than 50 years, said King was “in touch with what was happening with the world, which is what made him so funny.”
“He always talked about the annoyances of life,” Stiller said. “He was like a Jewish Will Rogers.”
King, who also was host of the New York Friars Club’s celebrity roasts, died at a Manhattan hospital, said a son, Robert King. He died of lung cancer, his assistant Miriam Rothstein said.
King appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” dozens of times and he played supporting roles in more than 20 films including “Bye Bye Braverman,” “I, the Jury,” “The Anderson Tapes,” “Lovesick,” “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Casino” and “Rush Hour 2.”
He also produced several films, including “Memories of Me,” “Wolfen” and “Cattle Annie and Little Britches,” and the 1997 television series “The College of Comedy With Alan King.”
He said he was working strip joints and seedy nightclubs in the early 1950s when he had a revelation while watching a performance by another young comedian, Danny Thomas.
“Danny actually talked to his audience,” he recalled in a 1991 interview. “And I realized I never talked to my audience. I talked at ’em, around ’em and over ’em, but not to ’em. I felt the response they had for him. I said to myself, ‘This guy is doing something, and I better start doing it.'”
King, who until then had been using worn out one-liners, found his new material at home, after his wife persuaded him to forsake his native Manhattan, believing the suburban atmosphere of the Forest Hills sections of Queens would provide a better environment for their children.
Soon he was joking of seeing people moving from the city to the suburbs “in covered wagons, with mink stoles hanging out the back.”
His rantings about suburbia, just as America was embracing it, struck a chord with the public and soon he was appearing regularly on the Sullivan show, Garry Moore’s variety show and “The Tonight Show.”
Bookings poured in, and he toured with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, played New York’s showcase Paramount theater and performed at top nightclubs around the country.
King appeared in a handful of films in the late 1950s, including “The Girl He Left Behind,” “Miracle in the Rain” and “Hit the Deck,” although he didn’t care for his roles. “I was always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski,” he once complained.
He also appeared on Broadway in “Guys and Dolls” and “The Impossible Years,” and produced the Broadway plays “The Lion in Winter” and “Something Different.”
He wrote the humor books “Anyone Who Owns His Own Home Deserves One” (1962) and “Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery” (1964).
Born Irwin Alan Kniberg, he grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Brooklyn.
“Both of them were tough neighborhoods, but I was a pretty tough kid,” he recalled in 1964. “I had an answer for everything. … I fought back with humor.”
He married Jeanette Sprung in 1947 ó “”Marriage is nature’s way of keeping us from fighting with strangers,” he once cracked ó and they had three children, Robert, Andrew and Elaine Ray. When King was at the height of his career, he faced one son’s drug addiction and said he realized he had neglected his family.
“It’s not easy being a father,” he said, “but I’ve been allowed a comeback.”
He spent more time at home and his son conquered his addiction.
“Now everyone kisses,” he said. “We show our affections.”