Louie Anderson, the good-natured, self-deprecating comedian who was a happy presence on the stand-up stage and television, passed away at the age of 68 from blood cancer.
Rise To Prominence: Anderson was born on March 24, 1953, in St. Paul, Minnesota, one of 11 children; his mother was a descendant of Mayflower passengers. He began his career as a counselor for troubled children but switched to performing after winning first place at the 1981 Midwest Comedy Competition.
Anderson sought out a career in stand-up comedy and worked the club circuit before connecting with national audiences on Nov. 20, 1984, in an appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” The reaction to his appearance was uncommonly strong and Anderson quickly found himself as an in-demand headliner on the comedy club circuit.
Anderson’s rising career hit a temporary setback when he was cast opposite Bronson Pichot for the 1985 pilot episode of the sitcom “Perfect Strangers.” ABC picked up the series but Anderson was dropped in favor of Mark Linn-Baker. But Anderson quickly regained his momentum, appearing in highly-regarding supporting roles in popular films “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and “Coming to America” (1988) while headlining a 1987 special on Showtime.
Small Screen Star: During the late 1990s, Anderson’s career gained further momentum with “Life with Louie,” a Saturday morning animated series broadcast on Fox Corp FOX. The show, which was based on his childhood, premiered in 1995 and ran for three years, winning two Daytime Emmy Awards.
After a six-episode run in 1996 with the CBS sitcom “The Louie Show,” Anderson found more stability as the host of a revived version of the game show “Family Feud,” helming the show from 1999 through 2002. Into the 2000s and 2010s, he was a ubiquitous television presence, guesting on comedy and dramatic series, game shows, reality programs and commercials. He also authored several light-hearted books based on his family that became bestsellers.
Anderson scored a new peak in 2016 with the FX comedy series “Baskets,” where he donned women’s clothing to play the role of Christine Baskets, the wacky mother of twin brothers played by Zach Galifianakis. Anderson won a Supporting Actor Emmy in 2016 for the role, which also brought him two Emmy nominations.
Anderson continued doing stand-up throughout his career and had his final television gig was as a panelist on the game show “Funny You Should Ask,” which ran in syndication from 2018 through 2020.
Private Life: Anderson was briefly married to a high school sweetheart in the mid-1980s. While much of his comedy was based on his formative years and his ongoing struggles with his weight, he rarely spoke of his off-screen life.
In 2000, Anderson was the subject of tabloid headlines after it was revealed he was being blackmailed by a man who claimed Anderson allegedly sexually propositioned him in 1993. The blackmailer, Richard John Gordon, was arrested by the FBI and sentenced to 21 months in prison. In 2017, comic Tom Rhodes publicly accused Anderson of sexual assault in 1986. Anderson did not comment on Rhodes' claim.
Photo: Louie Anderson in a publicity photograph.
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