Norm Crosby, the standup comedian who turned malapropism into an art form, has died. He was 93.
According to one report, Crosby succumbed to heart failure Saturday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Perhaps best-known for his appearances on the NBC “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” in the 1970s, the Boston-born Crosby turned the English language upside-down with his intentional misuse of words to comedic effect throughout his routines. The shtick earned him the nickname “The Master of Malaprops” — words that sound right but are completely incorrect in their usage.
In addition to his appearances alongside Martin and a dais of comedians, actors and sports notables for the Las Vegas-based roasts, Crosby also co-hosted the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon for 25 years alongside Jerry Lewis. He appeared on numerous television series throughout a career that spanned more than five decades, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Love Boat,” “Hollywood Squares” “It’s Gary Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” In the late 1970s he hosted the series “The Comedy Shop.” He made more than 50 guest appearances on “The Tonight Show” starting in the 1960s.
Early in his career, Crosby had realized he needed a gimmick to differentiate himself from the burgeoning generation of comedians who were achieving fame on the many network TV variety shows.
“I was looking around for fresh ideas, and I kept hearing people misuse words,” he told an interviewer in 1989. “So I started to use it in my act.”
Crosby’s first steady work as a comic came at Blinstrub’s in his native Boston, which led to an engagement in the early 1960s at the prestigious Latin Quarter in New York.
As a public performer, Crosby thrived despite having poor hearing. During World War II, he served aboard a Coast Guard submarine chaser, and concussion from the depth charges damaged his ears. He wore a hearing aid onstage.
“I was never shy about my hearing loss, probably because I got it from military service,” he explained in a 1993 interview. “I got thousands of letters from people who had said they would never get a hearing aid but had changed their minds after they saw me being open about it.”
Crosby became a favorite at the major Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos and played theaters, including many times at London’s Palladium, and concert halls.
Crosby is survived by his wife of 54 years, Joan, and two sons.
Contributing: Associated Press