Charles Nelson Reilly 1931-2007
THERE WAS MORE TO THIS ACTOR’S LIFE THAN BLANKS AND ASCOTS
Tony Award-winning actor (and saucy game show panelist) Charles Nelson Reilly died Friday night (5/25/07) in Los Angeles due to complications stemming from pneumonia. He was 76.
Although I was well aware of his failing health, it was still very sad for me to hear the news of his passing. It is not easy to say goodbye to someone that made so many of us laugh through the years. Some of the folks we grow up watching in the afternoons of our youth seem like they’ll be around forever. They can always be found in ‘TV land’ sitting on our screens, forever frozen in time, looking just as young and healthy as they ever did. That’s probably why I think 76 years-old seems a bit premature for Charles to leave this world.
Watching as much TV as I did growing up, I didn’t think twice about the sexual orientation of the people I saw on daily game shows or sitcoms. I had no idea he was some sort of ‘ground- breaker’ for homosexuals on TV. It didn’t matter to my young brain whether or not someone like Charles was gay or straight; he was consistently funny and almost always did (or said) something memorable during his many appearances. His loud voice and even louder wardrobe made quite an impression on me as a child.
It wasn’t until later in my life, watching hours upon hours of ‘Match Game’ reruns on The Game Show Network, that I came to appreciate the naughtiness of the humor that emanated from the top tier of its celebrity panel. When Charles wasn’t occupying that upper right-hand seat, the show just didn’t feel right. By today’s standards, most of what they said or did was pretty tame. But in the context of the era in which it originally aired, it was very risque (to say the least.) It blows my mind when I think about Charles spending nearly a decade making fun of Brett Somers on daytime television. To this day it has never stopped being funny to me. Now that’s comedy with some legs!
In recent years, Charles Nelson Reilly would occasionally pop up on the odd sitcom or on a show like ‘The X Files’ and remind me that he was still alive. Although he thought game shows killed his legitimate acting career, he was still getting work–just not as much as he would have liked. Maybe he was frustrated by the baggage he had to carry around, but he had to know that the hours of hilarious TV moments he left behind were more than any performer would have ever dreamt of giving this world. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of in my book.
Charles was once quoted as saying: “When I die, it’s going to read, ‘Game Show Fixture Passes Away.’ Nothing about the theater, or Tony Awards, or Emmys…but it doesn’t bother me.” The funny thing is, I have yet to see or hear a report of his death that hasn’t lead with his Broadway credits before it mentioned his game show appearances. Even he would be pleased to know that he was completely wrong about those kinds of things.
When the Best of the Match Game DVD set came out last year and GSN aired the documentary ‘Behind the Blank’, noticeably absent from both were Charles and his sardonic wit. Word had gone around that his health was failing and he was unable to do any interviews for the projects. It was a shame because I was hoping to hear some sarcastic zingers from my favorite panelist. “Maybe next time,” I told myself. Sadly, next time would never come.
Thankfully, a film crew captured his one-man show Save it for the Stage: The Life of Reilly in 2004 and turned into a feature-length movie. I consider myself a huge Charles Nelson Reilly fan and I had never read about or heard of his one-man show. If there was ever a person’s life that was cut out for this kind of treatment, it was Charles’.
It will be a bittersweet moment when The Life of Reilly finally comes to theaters (from what I have read, we will be able to see it sometime this fall.) Judging by the trailer I saw, it looks like it’s one hell of a movie. I just wish it was playing in a theater near me right now. Oh well, I’m sure it will be worth the wait. How could it not be?
I just wanted to say ‘Goodbye Charles.’ Thanks for all of the laughter you have brought to my life.
Read more about his life at YAHOO news.
Enjoy this hilarious clip of some classic Charles and Bret interplay on the Match Game.