There’s nothing like sitting down on the couch and watching a funny movie or some stand up comedy or improvisation. A classic Saturday Night Live episode or someone tearing up the crowd on a Comedy Central half hour special or Roast. Some of the greatest comedians have graced us with some classic lines, amazing movies, and video footage we’ll never forget and that will never see the likes of again. Some comedians are just so genius at what they do that they are truly one of a kind and we should feel grateful that we got to witness the best these comics had to give before they passed away.
Although there are a lot of great comedians out there, this top ten list is to pay homage to the greats. There should be many more on this list, but this is just a personal list of my favorite comedians that are no longer with us. So let’s get on with it. Feel free to let us know who your favorite dead comedians are!
Top 10 Dead Comedians:
10.Greg Giraldo--Who the heck is Greg Giraldo?? That’s a good question! And one that many of his fellow Roasters busted his balls about the entire time he was a Roaster for Comedy Central. However, for those that have seen him on the Roasts or doing a stand up special on TV, this guy was pretty unforgettable. He was the very one who asked the same question that every struggling comedian asks, but only he asked it at the Roast of Larry the Cable Guy. “You’re Larry the Cable Guy. How did that bit make you $50 million dollars???”
Giraldo checked out way too young and before most people got a chance to laugh at his act. But I don’t think it was an act with Giraldo. The guy was a natural. He died in 2010 at the age of 44 by an accidental overdose of prescription medication.
9. Richard Jeni--The thing about Richard Jeni is that his stand up comedy specials will never get old. His mannerism and delivery of a joke or story was such that it drew an audience in. I have watched the same stand up specials at least a dozen times each and find myself laughing every time and stealing those jokes to tell to others. Jeni died in 2007 at the age of 49 by a self inflicted gunshot to the head.
8. George Carlin--Carlin delivered his humor with a bit of anger and angst. Although he had a way of being offensive to some, they way he told a joke or made a comment about a controversial subject still kind of had to make you laugh. One of my own personal philosophies I learned from this master of comedy. I remember watching one of his HBO specials and hearing him say that he had two major rules in life. He never trusted anything the government said, and he never trusted anything the media said. They were both equally full of s**t. Well said, Mr. Carlin. I’m still laughing at your wit and wisdom.
Carlin died in 2008 at the age of 71.
7. John Ritter--Ah, one of my favorites of all time. Ritter was never into stand up comedy, but if you have every watched his movies or Three’s Company, you’ll get the reason for John Ritter being on this list. His list of comedies include Real Men and Skin Deep.
Actually, the reason I call this blog The Ritter Files is because of this comedian and classy guy. When I set this website up I wanted to be clever and witty once in a while and since I’m a writer, all I could think about at the time was the movie Skin Deep. Ritter’s character was also a writer and struggling to find his place in life and write the next great novel. Hence, The Ritter Files.
John Ritter passed away in 2003 at the age of 54.
6. Gilda Radner--Radner was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. She was on the show from 1975 to 1980 and created such classic characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna that would tell gross stories about celebrities on the show’s Weekend Update segment. Another hilarious character was Baba Wawa (a spoof on Barbara Walters). Remember the character Emily Litella, the hearing impaired woman that gave news updates on the news segment! Hilarious…”flea erections in China.”
Who could forget her role in the movie Haunted Honeymoon! Great film. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989 at the age of 42.
5. Johnny Carson--Carson was a master of his craft and entertained America for decades before retiring from The Tonight Show. Since his departure, late night television has never been the same and his two heir apparent to the throne of late night (Leno and Letterman) have failed to live up to the standard that Johnny Carson set.
However, with such a high bar did anyone really expect late night TV to ever be the same after he left? He was a once in a lifetime comedian that wore shoes that will never be filled in the world of comedy. To say that Johnny Carson is a legend would be a gross understatement.
Carson died in 2005 at the age of 79.
4. Richard Pryor--Pryor thrilled audiences on stage as well as in films. But it wasn’t just his “colorful” language that set him apart at the time, it was the way he told a story and the appeal that he had to a wide audience in the 1970’s. I think proper credit has to be given to Pryor because if it wasn’t for him paving the way for a lot of other black comedians we very well might have never seen the rise of stars like Eddie Murphy or even more recently Chris Rock. Pryor could deliver a clean joke just as easily as he would a joke about drug abuse or racial issues. You had to laugh.
Pryor was in some classic movies such as See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Moving, Critical Condition and Harlem Nights. Pryor also wrote for the television shows Sanford and Son and the Flip Wilson Show. Pryor died in 2005 from a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
3. Sam Kinison--Most of America was introduced to this former preacher turned comic when he had a short role in the movie Back To School starring Rodney Dangerfield. He played the part of a psychotic history professor that took his job a bit too seriously. However, Kinison quickly rose to the top of the A-list of comics with his loud and abrasive act, and his angry comedic style. It was a role that fit his perfectly. He even went on to have a hit video on MTV with the remake of Wild Thing. The video featured Jessica Hahn dressed scantily and dancing and rolling around the star studded cast of rock stars. Leave to Kinison to throw fire on a controversy involving a church.
Kinison was killed in 1992 by a 17 year old drunk driver. Kinison was married 5 days before his death. He was 38.
2. John Belushi--Belushi is still considered one of the greatest comedians of all time. To see why all you need to do is watch the Blues Brothers or Animal House. Even though he didn’t have many lines in Animal House, he showed just how important physical comedy is in making a good movie or skit. He is still considered the ICON of the Saturday Night Live alumni and was multi talented in more ways than just his alcohol and drug consumption, which is what many recall when they think of Belushi. I prefer to remember the Samaria Chef, Bluto, and Jake Blues.
Belushi died in 1982 at the age of 33 by a combined injection of cocaine and heroin, also called a speedball.
1. Rodney Dangerfield--I put Dangerfield at the top of this list because the guy deserves nothing but respect. His stand up acts were riotous and his movies (although he considered himself a piss poor actor) were hilarious. Look up some old YouTube clips of Dangerfield and hold on to your hat. Even his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson were rip roaring. You could tell that he was a crowd favorite.
However, although I he was a master of comedy, I think Dangerfield should be remembered for his efforts at giving other comedians a chance at the stage. He owned a comedy club called Dangerfield’s where he would give chances to little known comedians and help them along with their careers. Maybe you are familiar with a few of the comedians he helped along the way: Jerry Seinfeld, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Jeff Foxworthy, Jay Leno.
Dangerfield died in 2004 at the age of 82.
Final thought: It sucks that so many great comics are gone. Whew, I’m glad the Dice Man is still around. I’m holding out hope for Ford Fairlane Part II!