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R.I.P. Tim Conway, comedy legend of The Carol Burnett Show and McHale's Navy

Image: The Everett Collection

Where does one start with Tim Conway? It's impossible to pick his funniest performance. Measuring the laughter he induced is some astronomical math. On The Carol Burnett Show, he crafted brilliant characters like The Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball. And then there was the inept dentist who kept injecting himself with novocaine. Those who were fortunate enough to grow up in the black-and-white television days as the dopey second-in-command Ensign Parker on McHale's Navy. Or rewinding the clock a bit further, how about his sketch-comedy work on The Steve Allen Show in the early 1960s?

Oh, there's more, so much more. To Generation X, Conway was the comedic foil to Don Knotts in The Apple Dumpling Gang films (and a few others), or Dorf, the diminutive doofus who taught golf. He also meant something to Millennials, who knew Conway as Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants, which reteamed the comedian with his old McHale's costar and pal, Ernest Borgnine.

In short, Conway was a giant of 20th-century television, one of the funniest men to ever appear on the small screen. Oddly, networks tried several times to cast Conway in his own vehicle, from The Tim Conway Show (1970) to The Tim Conway Show (1980) to Ace Crawford, Private Eye (1983). All of them failed to find an audience. Blame the circumstances, blame the competition — they are no knock on his resume.

Born in Ohio and raised in Chagrin Falls, a wonderfully named suburb for a burgeoning comedian, Conway began his career on local television in Cleveland. One of his early gigs was playing a sidekick to Ghoulardi, the horror host on local Cleveland airwaves. It would be Rose Marie of The Dick Van Dyke Show who gave Conway his big break. She was visiting a Cleveland affiliate on a promotional tour when she discovered his talent. Rose Marie pushed Conway to The Steve Allen Show. The rest, as we attempted to summarize above, is history. Conway would go on to win five Emmy Awards for his television work.

On Tuesday morning, May 14, 2019, Conway died in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 85. The actor had been unable to speak after undergoing brain surgery last fall.

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