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Norm Crosby, the stand-up comedian who spent more than five decades amusing and bemusing audiences in nightclubs and on television as the “Master of the Malaprop,” has died. He was 93.
Crosby died Saturday of heart failure at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, his wife of 54 years, Joan, told The Hollywood Reporter.
The likable Boston native also appeared as a regular on Dean Martin’s celebrity roasts and NBC variety program and on scores of talk shows, and he co-hosted Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon for more than 25 years.
The dictionary defines malapropism as “the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase,” and the quick smart Crosby intentionally turned it into his own comic art form.
On Martin’s show, he once said of the host: “He’s got a certain inner flux that excretes from this man, there’s an aura of marination that radiates out of him. I don’t know where it comes from.”
Somewhat incredibly, Crosby’s rapid-fire talent for misusing words landed him gigs as a pitchman for such national companies as Red Lobster (come on in and “create your own shrimp and seafood complications”) and Anheuser-Busch’s dreadful Natural Light beer (which he drank when he was “dehibernated“).
Crosby was working as an advertising manager for a shoe company in Boston when he decided to try his hand at stand-up at local bars and clubs on weekends.
“I would watch The Ed Sullivan Show and borrow a few lines here and there from guests like Red Buttons and Buddy Hackett to create a routine,” he told Nick Thomas in a December 2014 interview. “Then I started getting invited to do political functions like the governor’s birthday ball or the mayor’s dinner.”
Crosby was hired to perform for a week at the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York City and realized he needed his own material. He remembered the owner of a club in Springfield, Massachusetts, who, when talking about a girl, once told Crosby, “Find out if she is staying over or is communicating.”
So, he said, “I starting playing around with the idea of malaprops, and that’s how my signature act evolved.”
One week at the Latin Quarter turned into 18. Crosby signed with William Morris, quit his day job and opened for Camelot singer and star Robert Goulet at the Concord Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York. They would work together for the next three years.
He also opened for singer Tom Jones for years and had a longtime residency at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.
Crosby starred in a short-lived 1988 Showtime sitcom The Boys, created by Alan Zweibel (Saturday Night Live, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show), and guest-starred on such series as Adam-12, The Love Boat and L.A. Law.
He worked all those years despite increasing hearing loss, brought on when he was serving in the military during World War II.
“I was on a sub chaser in the North Atlantic and the depth charges made a terrific sound; it was very loud and you could feel it through your bones,” he said in 2003. “The hearing loss came about slowly; it was not that one day I was suddenly deaf, it was a gradual thing.”
Until recently, Crosby still was performing for audiences in casinos, on cruise ships and for the folks at the Friars Club, for whom he participated in a roast of Donald Trump in 2004.
In addition to his wife, survivors include his sons, Andrew and David, and his grandchildren, Jack and Lily.
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