Entertainment

Tom Poston, actor known as Newhart's 'go-to guy,' dies at 85

Tom Poston, the tall, pasty-faced comic who found fame and fortune playing a clueless everyman on such hit television shows as Newhart as well as Mork and Mindy, has died at 85.

Tom Poston, the tall, pasty-faced comic who found fame and fortune playing a clueless everyman on such hit television shows as Newhart as well as Mork and Mindy, has died. He was 85.

Poston, who was married to actor Suzanne Pleshette of The Bob Newhart Show, died Monday night at home after a brief illness, a family representative, Tanner Gibson, said Tuesday. The nature of his illness was not disclosed.

Newhart remembered Poston as a "versatile and veteran performer, and a kindhearted individual.

"Tom was always the 'go-to guy' on Newhart in addition to being a good and longtime friend," Newhart said in a statement.

Billy Crystal, who starred in the 1978 film Rabbit Test in which Poston also appeared, was another admirer.

"How rare that a gentle, sweet person could be so incredibly funny," Crystal said in a statement. "I grew up watching Tom on The Steve Allen Show as a kid. What an incredible gift to become friends with him and to learn about comedy from a true professional. He was a combination of Stan Laurel and Jack Benny. We will all miss him."

Poston's run as a comic bumbler began in the mid-1950s with The Steve Allen Show after Allen plucked the character actor from the Broadway stage to join an ensemble of eccentrics with whom he would conduct "man in the street" interviews.

Don Knotts was the shaky Mr. Morrison, Louis Nye was the suave, overconfident Gordon Hathaway, and Poston's character was so unnerved by the television cameras that he couldn't remember who he was. He won an Emmy playing The Man Who Can't Remember His Name.

But when Allen moved the show from New York to Los Angeles in 1959, Poston stayed behind.

"Hollywood's not for me right now; I'm a Broadway cat," he told a reporter at the time.

When he finally moved west, he quickly began appearing in variety shows, sitcoms and films.

A range of movie roles

His movie credits included:

  • Cold Turkey.
  • The Happy Hooker.
  • Rabbit Test.

And, more recently:

  • Christmas With the Kranks.
  • Beethoven's 5th.
  • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.

On Mork and Mindy, which starred Robin Williams as a space alien, Poston was Franklin Delano Bickley, the mindless boozer with the annoying dog.

On Newhart, he was George Utley, the handyman who couldn't fix anything at the New England inn run by Newhart's character. And on Newhart's show Bob, he was the star's dim-bulb former college roommate.

"These guys are about a half-step behind life's parade," Postonsaid in a 1983 interview. "The ink on their instruction sheets is beginning to fade. But they can function and cope, and don't realize they are driving people up the walls.

"In ways I don't like to admit, I'm a goof-up myself," Poston continued. "It's an essential part of my character. When these guys screw up, it reminds me of my own incompetence with the small frustrations of life."

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