Louie Anderson, the genial stand-up comedian, actor and television host who won an Emmy Award for his work on the series “Baskets” and two Daytime Emmys for his animated children’s show, “Life With Louie,” died on Friday at a hospital in Las Vegas. He was 68.
His death was confirmed by his longtime publicist, Glenn Schwartz, who said the cause was complications of diffuse large B cell lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.
In an entertainment career that spanned more than four decades, Mr. Anderson had a self-deprecating style that won him legions of fans, among them Henny Youngman and Johnny Carson, whose early support catapulted him to stardom.
In 1981, Mr. Anderson was among the top finishers at a comedy competition hosted by Mr. Youngman, who subsequently hired him as a writer.
Mr. Anderson made his national television debut on “The Tonight Show” with Mr. Carson in 1984, and, as comedians say, he killed. The routine was heavy on jokes about his own weight (which at times in his life topped 300 pounds), and he had the audience roaring from his opening deadpan line: “I can’t stay long. I’m in between meals.”
Afterward, Mr. Carson brought him out for a second bow, a rarity for comics and especially for ones making their debut. Later, Mr. Carson paid him another high compliment.
“He came by my dressing room on the way to his, stuck his head in and said, ‘Great shot, Louie,’” Mr. Anderson told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002. “Because comics call that a ‘shot’ on ‘The Tonight Show.’ And that was huge for me.”
He went from being paid $500 a week for his stand-up work to making twice that for one night, he said. And film and television work started coming his way, including small roles in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and “Coming to America” (1988). In 1987 Showtime broadcast a comedy special that captured him in performance at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, his hometown.
“In an age when comedians rely on desperation measures to establish a performing identity — think of Howie Mandel indulging in infantile screaming or Sam Kinison feigning a nervous breakdown — Mr. Anderson has developed a low-keyed act that could fit comfortably into the category of family entertainment,” John J. O’Connor wrote in reviewing that show for The New York Times.
“At a time when stand-up comedy is trafficking heavily in insult, hysteria and sexual obsessions,” he added, “Mr. Anderson seems to have come up with something truly different — old-fashioned, heartwarming humor.”
That continued to be his bread and butter for his whole career, although he took it in interesting directions. “Life With Louie,” which ran from 1994 to 1998 and won him Daytime Emmys in 1997 and 1998 as outstanding performer in an animated program, was a savvy children’s show that also had an adult following; its title character, a child, dealt with an assortment of problems at home and on the playground.
On “Baskets,” an acclaimed comic drama that ran from 2016 to 2019 and starred Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Anderson, in drag, played the mother of the twin brothers played by Mr. Galifianakis. Mr. Anderson was nominated for the supporting actor Emmy for the role three times, winning in 2016.
In a 1996 interview with The Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Anderson reflected on his own appeal.
“People are comfortable with me onstage,” he said. “There’s nothing hateful about my comedy. I look at it from the humanity standpoint. I’m just kind of like ‘Hey, we’re all in this together,’ and so they feel comfortable inviting me into their living rooms.”
Survivors include two sisters, Lisa and Shanna Anderson.
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