Jay Leggett, Chicago improviser, 'In Living Color' actor, dies at 50

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/24/2013, 08:59am

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Jay Leggett cast member of In Living Color.Jay Leggett, a longtime Chicago improviser who went on to countless TV guest spots and a slot on “In Living Color,” has died at age 50.

A native of Tomahawk, Wis., he collapsed Saturday after a day of hunting in his hometown, the Lincoln County [Wis.] Sheriff’s Department told the Wausau Daily Herald.

Mr. Leggett was a member of the influential team Blue Velveeta at iO back when it was ImprovOlympic, in the storied late-’80s, early-’90s era when Tina Fey, Adam McKay, Jon Favreau and other future stars trod the stage.

“Talk about living under the lucky comedy stars,” he said in a 2008 Sun-Times interview.

The ImprovOlympic team Blue Velveeta. Seated in front: Kevin Dorff. From left: Brian Blondell, Jay Leggett, Susan Messing, Mitch Rouse, Tom Booker, Brendan Sullivan.

The ImprovOlympic team Blue Velveeta. Kneeling in front: Kevin Dorff. From left: Brian Blondell, Jay Leggett, Susan Messing, Mitch Rouse, Tom Booker, Brendan Sullivan.

On Sunday, Chicago friends on Facebook were remembering his intelligent wit, his robust singing voice and his encouragement of young talent.

Mr. Leggett was a big guy in a city with a soft spot for actors both hilarious and hefty: John Belushi, Chris Farley, Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter.

“Intentionally or not, a lot of us big guys came to Chicago for Second City, and Chicago embraces big guys,” Mr. Leggett told the Sun-Times in 1995. “It’s a very blue collar, big guy town.”

He departed for Los Angeles in 1993 to appear in the final season of “In Living Color,” where his roles included George Costanza (opposite Jim Carrey as Jerry in a “Seinfeld” parody) and an Irish singer bumming out a homeless shelter.

His later TV work included guest spots on “Ally McBeal,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “NYPD Blue.”

In 2008 he and several friends from the ImprovOlympic days — Mitch Rouse, David Pasquesi and Michael Coleman— starred in the short-lived Spike TV series “Factory,” about small-town buddies working at the local plant. Mr. Leggett said he tapped into his memories of a Tomahawk paper mill where he and other family members worked, where a sign announced 212 days had passed without an accident.

“If you worked the day shift, that’s when they were changing it to either 213, or zero,” Mr. Leggett recalled. “And then of course you were like, ‘What happened? Who lost a finger? Who dropped a beam on their foot?’ ”

He also co-wrote the 2004 film comedies “Employee of the Month,” with Matt Dillon, and “Without a Paddle” (2004), starring Seth Green. The latter had Burt Reynolds playing a crackpot called Del, named after Mr. Leggett’s Chicago improv mentor Del Close.

He recently directed the upcoming movie “Live Nude Girls,” with Kids in the Hall comedian Dave Foley and porn veteran Bree Olson, and tweeted earlier this month, “Movie is DONE. Time to make a deal.”