Following in the well-heeled footsteps of comics like Oliver Hardy (of Laurel & Hardy), Jackie Gleason and Roseanne Barr, Louie Anderson built a successful comedy career using his weight as his number one asset. With an eternally adolescent look and a self-deprecating wit, all wrapped up in a tongue-in-cheek style, Anderson was best known for his stand-up comedy act, but also appeared in numerous television shows and films, wrote best-selling books - even revived the 1970's game show hit "The Family Feud."
Born Louie Perry Anderson on March 24, 1953 in Minneapolis, MN, the future comic was one of 11 children. With that much competition, he quickly realized the benefits of standing out with a sense of humor. Growing up with an alcoholic father, Anderson found work full-time as a school counselor to troubled children, until one night, on a dare, his comedy career began. At a comedy club in Minneapolis, Anderson bragged to his friends that he was just as funny as any of the comics on stage. They dared him to go up on stage and prove it - so he did. Within six months, he was doing comedy full time.
His early comedy routines focused on the outrageous situations inherent with growing-up inside of a big family, as well as the normally not-so-funny experiences from counseling kids. Touring the college circuit and clubs in Chicago and Kansas City, Anderson crafted his persona as the happy, loveable loser; the harmless kid you can't help but feel sorry for, yet like at the same time. This act helped him to win first place at the 1981 Midwest Comedy Competition, where the host was legendary comedian, Henry Youngman (the violin-playing "King of the One-Liner"). Youngman immediately saw the young comic's potential and took him on as a writer and protégé.
Like virtually every successful comedian of his day, Anderson landed his big break with an appearance on "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1962- ) with Johnny Carson in 1984. Carson was so impressed with Anderson that he called him out for a 'second bow,' a gesture rarely bestowed on comics and one that signified the late-night legend's seal of approval. Anderson quickly found himself as a headliner at Sunset Boulevard's the Comedy Store and performed small, but memorable roles in feature films such as the flower-delivery guy in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), the always-eating bicycle courier in "Quicksilver" (1986), and with fellow comedians Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in "Coming To America" (1988).
With the face of a chubby, forever-adolescent kid, and a disarmingly sweet smile, Anderson's amiable personality seemed tailor made for the TV game show genre - or, more specifically, old TV game shows reborn. Anderson appeared as a recurring panelist guest on "The New Hollywood Squares" starting in 1987 and stole the show, consistently being the most-chosen square (perhaps due to his inability to lie with a straight face). Anderson's uncanny ability to personally connect with a crowd had bloomed enough that he found himself hosting his own gigs, such as HBO's "Comedy Showcase" and "Comic Relief VII" in 1995.
After the success of his bestselling first book Dear Dad - Letters From An Adult Child in 1989, the comic continued his personal catharsis-as-comedy with the creation of the animated show "Life with Louie" in 1995. The Saturday morning series based on his childhood won numerous awards, including two Emmy Awards and three Humanitas Prizes. In 1999, Anderson's family-friendly persona fashioned him a natural fit for the rebirth of another classic game show, the 70s hit, "The Family Feud." Ironically, the original show was best known for its debonair host Richard Dawson kissing the female contestants - a polar opposite to its new host Louie Anderson, who would giggle at them.
It was during this heady time that Anderson became the victim of blackmail and extortion. Richard J. Gordon, from Mesa, AZ, wrote to Anderson, detailing how he (Anderson) had approached him in a California casino requesting sexual acts in 1993. Gordon threatened to take his story to the tabloids, reportedly writing "stars are falling left and right," and "now that you are working with kids it makes it even worse." Between 1997-98, Anderson paid Gordon $100,000 to keep the story out of the tabloids, protect his family-friendly image and avoiding becoming another "Pee Wee Herman," but when Gordon upped the ante to another $250K, Anderson and his lawyer went to the feds. In a scene more dramatic than any of his professional work, Anderson and the FBI set up a sting where Anderson's assistants arranged to meet Gordon in a Los Angeles restaurant to hand over the extortion check. Instead, Gordon was confronted by undercover FBI agents and fled the scene in a pickup, leading authorities in a high-speed chase down Santa Monica Boulevard, dropping two loaded pistols out of his vehicle before being nabbed. Gordon was later tried, convicted, and in 2000, sentenced up to 21 months in prison. Anderson later stated, "Being a target of criminal activity is an unfortunate and increasingly common by-product of celebrity."
Anderson continued his stint on "The Family Feud" until 2002. In 2003, he had sudden heart surgery in a Los Angeles hospital. Louie "did not have a heart attack," said longtime agent Steve Levine. "Louie woke up not feeling well. Anyone who knows Louie, knows he has a giant heart. It just needed a little maintenance." Indeed, Anderson was true to his agent's words, returning to stand-up comedy, as well as publishing the book The F Word: How to Survive Your Family. Anderson next landed a gig performing at the Excalibur in Vegas. He also starred in the new film "Cook-Off!" and clocked in at #92 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all-time.
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Won first place at the Midwest Comedy Competition
Made an appearance on NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson"
Made his feature debut in "Cloak & Dagger"
Cast alongside Bronson Pinchot on the pilot episode of "Perfect Strangers" for ABC; replaced by Mark Linn-Baker when the show was picked up as a series
Had a small role as the flower-delivery guy in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
Cast as the always-eating bicycle courier in "Quicksilver"
Became a recurring guest panelist on "The New Hollywood Squares"
Published his bestselling first book, Dear Dad - Letters From An Adult Child
Wrote a self-help book, Goodbye Jumbo... Hello Cruel World
Created and produced the animated series, "Life with Louie"
Created and starred in the short-lived CBS series, "The Louie Show"
Hosted the new version of "Family Feud"
Published his third book, The F Word: How to Survive Your Family
Began performing regularly in Las Vegas at the Louie Anderson Theater at the Palace Station