Gene Patton, the NBC stagehand in Burbank who stole the spotlight as Gene Gene the Dancing Machine on NBC’s wacky The Gong Show, died Monday, his family announced. He was 82.
Patton died in Pasadena, according to a spokeswoman at the local Woods-Valentine Mortuary. He had suffered from diabetes.
The Gong Show, dreamed up and hosted by producer Chuck Barris (The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game), aired on NBC in daytime from 1976-78 and then in syndication. Acts — most of them amateurish and just plain awful — auditioned for three celebrity judges, who banged a gong on stage to mercifully send the bad ones packing.
At a random moment during the game show, Barris would introduce Patton, and the curtain would part, bringing the shuffling stagehand with the painter’s cap onstage to the sounds of “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” a jazz tune made popular by Count Basie. His dance sent everyone on the set — Barris, the judges, the cameramen, the audience — into an uncontrollable boogie.
“One day, during rehearsal, I saw Gene dancing by himself in a dark corner. The huge stagehand never moved his feet; just his body from the waist up. He was terrific,” Barris wrote in his 1984 memoir, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
“[Barris] said I was such a good dancer he had to name me twice,” Patton once said.
A native of Berkeley, Calif., Patton also appeared as Gene in The Gong Show Movie (1980) and as himself in the film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney and Charlie Kaufman’s surreal 2002 adaptation that starred Sam Rockwell as Barris. By then, Patton had lost both his legs to diabetes.
A former janitor at John Muir High School in Pasadena, Patton in 1969 became the first African-American member of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, Local 33. “You are a legend in our eyes,” the stage technicians union wrote on its Facebook page.
Survivors include his children Bonnie, Carol, Sidney and Courtney, his sister Henrietta, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.