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Comic, actor Alan King dead at 76

Monday, May 10, 2004

NEW YORK -- Alan King, whose tirades against everyday suburban life grew into a long comedy career in nightclubs and television that he later expanded to Broadway and character roles in movies, died Sunday at the age of 76.

King, who also was host of the New York Friars Club's celebrity roasts, which had recently returned as a staple on television's Comedy Central, died at a Manhattan hospital, said a son, Robert King. He died of lung cancer, his assistant Miriam Rothstein said.

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 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 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."'

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 a suburban 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."

Bookings poured in, and he and performed at top nightclubs around the country. He also worked as the opening act for such music stars as Lena Horne and Judy Garland, whom he joined in a command performance in London for Queen Elizabeth II.

After that show he was introduced to the queen and, when she asked, "How do you do, Mr. King?" he said he replied: "How do you do, Mrs. Queen?"

"She stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed," he recalled. "Thank God Prince Philip laughed."


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