King, Alan 1927-2004

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KING, Alan 1927-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born December 26, 1927, in New York, NY; died of lung cancer May 9, 2004, in New York, NY. Comedian, actor, producer, and author. King was one of the great stand-up comics of his time, and he also acted on stage and screen, produced Broadway shows, and penned humorous books and memoirs. Born Irwin Alan Kniberg, his early life was one of struggle growing up in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He dropped out of high school, playing drums with his own band for a time and trying his hand as a comic working in the Catskills and at burlesque houses. Inspired by Danny Thomas and mentored early on by Milton Berle, the comic changed his name to King, honed his routine, and started finding success on vaudeville as an opening act for such stars as Patti Page, Billy Eckstine, and Lena Horne. During a performance in 1956 with Judy Garland, King was discovered by Ed Sullivan, who invited the young comic to be on his television show. This marked a turning point in King's career, and he would make many more appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show over the coming years. Beginning in 1949, he was already a regular performer in Las Vegas, often staging his routine at Caesar's Palace and the Sands Hotel, and he later served as a host of celebrity roasts at the Friars Club in New York City, as well as being a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, for which he sometimes served as a substitute host when Carson was on vacation. King did more than stand-up, though, acting at major stage venues, including on Broadway, where he won roles in plays such as The Impossible Years and the 1965 revival of Guys and Dolls. He also began producing plays, including Dinner at Eight and The Lion in Winter, and films, such as Cat's Eye and Cattle Amie and Little Britches. Beginning in the 1950s, King won parts in movies, including Hit the Deck (1955), The Helen Morgan Show (1957), and, more recently, a leading role in the film Just Tell Me What You Want (1979). He also appeared in Author Author (1982), Memories of Me (1988), Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), and Night and the City (1992). Though he never had his own television series, something the comedian always regretted, he appeared on a number of sitcoms, such as The Golden Girls and Murphy Brown, as well as taking parts on drama series such as Law and Order and the 1994 miniseries Baseball. With success in his pocket, King became involved in various philanthropic pursuits, most notably as a supporter of tennis, for which he founded the Alan King Tennis Classic tournament in Las Vegas. King was the coauthor of several books, including Anybody Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It (1962), Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964), and the memoir Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King (1996). Most recently, he published Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book (2002), and completed another memoir, Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing up Jewish, which was to be published posthumously.



Chicago Tribune, May 10, 2004, section 4, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2004, p. B9.

New York Times, May 10, 2004, p. A23.

Times (London, England), May 28, 2004, p. 44.

Washington Post, May 10, 2004, p. B6.