Emmy-winning comedian Louie Anderson dead at 68

Louie Anderson, whose more than four-decade career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely Emmy-winning performance as the mother of twin adult sons in the dark comedy series Baskets, died Friday. He was 68.

Anderson's accolades included 3 consecutive Emmy nods, and 1 win for role in comedy series Baskets

Actor Louie Anderson attends the Television Academy's Performers Peer Group Celebration at NeueHouse Hollywood on Aug. 20, 2018 in Los Angeles. Anderson, whose four-decade career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely and Emmy-winning performance in the TV series Baskets, has died at age 68. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Louie Anderson, whose more than four-decade career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely, Emmy-winning performance as mom to twin adult sons in the TV series Baskets, died Friday. He was 68.

Anderson died at a hospital in Las Vegas of complications from cancer, said Glenn Schwartz, his longtime publicist, who had previously said Anderson had a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

"Baskets was such a phenomenal 'second act' for Louie Anderson. I wish he'd gotten a third," Michael McKean said on Twitter. George Wallace, another comedian and actor, wrote: "You'll be missed, Louie. What an awesome friend. One in a million."

And Gilbert Gottfried posted a photo of himself, Anderson and Bob Saget, who died Jan. 9, with the caption: "Both good friends that will be missed."

The portly, round-faced Anderson used his girth and a checkered childhood in Saint Paul, Minn., as fodder for his early standup routines.

He had a lifelong battle with weight, but said in 1987 that he'd put a stop to using his size as stage material.

"I've always been big," he said. "But I don't do fat jokes anymore."

In later years, his life as one of 11 children in a family headed by a troubled father and devoted mother was a deeper source of reflection and inspiration for Anderson, both in his screen work and in his best-selling books.

Louie Anderson appears in Los Angeles, July 1987. Spokesperson Glenn Schwartz said Anderson's career began to take shape in 1981, when he was discovered by veteran comic Henny Youngman. (Douglas C. Pizac/The Associated Press)

His latest book, 2018's Hey Mom, was a tribute in letters to the lessons he learned from her and how-to tips on facing life's challenges. He also gave the late Ora Zella Anderson a shout-out for his Baskets role.

"I just started writing with one letter, saying, 'Hey Mom, I'm playing you on TV. I hope you see it. I hope you're a part of it," Anderson told The Associated Press that year.

Anderson won a 2016 Emmy for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, mother to twins played by Zach Galifianakis in the dark comedy series. Anderson received three consecutive Emmy nods for his performance.

Discovered in 1981

Anderson's early jobs included counselling troubled children. He changed course after winning a 1981 Midwest comedy competition, where he was spotted by veteran comic Henny Youngman, who hosted the contest, according to Schwartz.

Anderson worked as a writer for Youngman and then gained onstage experience while crisscrossing the United States. His big break came in 1984 when Johnny Carson, known for showcasing rising comedians on The Tonight Show, brought him on to perform.

He was a familiar face elsewhere on TV, including as host of a revival of the game show Family Feud from 1999 to 2002, and on comedy specials and frequent late-night talk show appearances.

Anderson voiced an animated version of himself as a kid in Life With Louie. He created the cartoon series, which first aired in prime time in late 1994 before moving to Saturday morning for its 1995-98 run. Anderson won two Daytime Emmy awards for the role.

He made guest appearances in several TV series, including Scrubs and Touched by an Angel, and was on the big screen in 1988's Coming to America and last year's sequel to the Eddie Murphy comedy.

In a magazine interview, Anderson recounted getting the role after he spotted Murphy, who he knew working in comedy clubs, at a Los Angeles restaurant. Anderson said hello, then made a costly decision that paid off.

Louie Anderson, right, videobombs comedian Carrot Top as he is interviewed at the 10th anniversary celebration of his residency at the Luxor Hotel and Casino on Dec. 6, 2015 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

"Take Eddie Murphy's check and put it on my credit card, but don't tell him until after I leave," Anderson recalled telling a waiter. He ended up with a $600 charge, but Murphy called to thank him and offered to write a part for him in Coming to America, Anderson said.

His books included Dear Dad — Letters From An Adult Child, a collection of letters from Anderson to his late father; Good-bye Jumbo... Hello Cruel World, a self-help book, and The F Word: How To Survive Your Family.

His survivors include sisters Lisa and Shanna Anderson.


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