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NEW YORK — Bobby “Boris” Pickett, whose dead-on Boris Karloff impression propelled the Halloween anthem “Monster Mash” to the top of the pop charts in 1962, making him one of pop music’s most enduring one-hit wonders, has died. He was 69.
Pickett, dubbed “The Guy Lombardo of Halloween,” died Wednesday night of leukemia at the West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital, said his longtime manager, Stuart Hersh. His daughter, Nancy, and his sister, Lynda, were at Pickett’s bedside.
“Monster Mash” hit the Billboard Hot 100 three times: when it debuted in 1962, reaching No. 1 the week before Halloween and spending two weeks there; again briefly in summer 1970; and for a third time in spring 1973, when it peaked at No. 10 and spent 20 weeks on the chart. The resurrections were appropriate for a song where Pickett gravely intoned the forever-stuck-in-your-head chorus: “He did the monster mash/It was a graveyard smash.”
The novelty hit’s fans included Bob Dylan, who played the single on his XM Satellite Radio program in October. “Our next artist is considered a one-hit wonder, but his one hit comes back year after year,” Dylan noted.
The hit single ensured Pickett’s place in the pantheon of pop music obscurities, said syndicated radio host Dr. Demento, whose long-running program celebrates offbeat tunes.
“It’s certainly the biggest Halloween song of all time,” Dr. Demento said. The DJ, who interviewed Pickett last year, said he maintained a sense of humor about his singular success: “As he loved to say at oldies shows, ‘And now I’m going to do a medley of my hit.’ “
Fans of “The Dr. Demento Show” also know Pickett as the voices behind “Star Drek,” a spot-on parody of “Star Trek” that was a perennial fan favorite. The track is credited to Pickett and Peter Ferrara.
Pickett was Born Feb. 11, 1940, in Somerville, Mass. His impression of Karloff (who despite his name was an Englishman, born William Henry Pratt) was forged as the boy watched horror films in a theater managed by his father.
Pickett used the impersonation in a nightclub act and when performing with his band the Cordials. A bandmate convinced Pickett that they needed to do a song to showcase the Karloff voice, and “Monster Mash” was born — “written in about a half-hour,” Dr. Demento said.
The recording, done in a couple of hours, featured a then-unknown piano player named Leon Russell and a backing band christened the Crypt-Kickers. It was rejected by four major labels before Gary Paxton, lead singer on the Hollywood Argyles’ novelty hit “Alley Oop,” released “Monster Mash” on his own Garpax label. (The other times the song charted, it was on the Parrot label.)
The instant smash became a sort-of Christmas carol for the pumpkin and ghoul set. In a 1996 interview with People magazine, Pickett said he never grew tired of it: “When I hear it, I hear a cash register ringing.”
While Pickett never re-created its success, his “Monster’s Holiday,” a Christmas follow-up, reached No. 30 in December 1962, and “Graduation Day” dented the chart in June 1963. Both were on Garpax.
He continued performing through his final gig in November. He remained in demand for Halloween performances, including a memorable 1973 show where his bus broke down outside Frankenstein, Mo.
Pickett also was an actor, appearing on stage, in horror-themed small movies and episodes of such TV shows as “Bonanza,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Twelve O’Clock High.” He also co-wrote and appeared in 1995’s “Monster Mash: The Movie.”
Beside his daughter and sister, Pickett is survived by two grandchildren.
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