- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Alan King, whose tirades against everyday suburban life grew into a long comedy career in nightclubs and television that he later expanded to Broadway and character roles in movies, died yesterday at the age of 76.

Mr. King, who also was host of the New York Friars Club’s celebrity roasts, which had returned recently as a staple on cable TV’s Comedy Central, died at a Manhattan hospital, said son Robert.

The elder Mr. King appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 93 times beginning in the 1950s.

Comedian Jerry Stiller, who knew Mr. King for more than 50 years, said he was “in touch with what was happening with the world, which is what made him so funny.”

“He always talked about the annoyances of life,” Mr. Stiller said. “He was like a Jewish Will Rogers.”

Mr. King played supporting roles in more than 20 films, including “Bye Bye Braverman,” “I, the Jury,” “The Anderson Tapes,” “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Casino.”

Mr. King appeared in a handful of films in the late 1950s, including “Miracle in the Rain” and “Hit the Deck,” although he didn’t care for his roles. “I was always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski,” he once complained.

He also produced several films, including “Memories of Me,” “Wolfen” and “Cattle Annie and Little Britches,” and the 1997 TV series “The College of Comedy With Alan King.”

He said he had been working at strip joints and seedy nightclubs in the early 1950s when he had a revelation while watching a performance by another young comedian, Danny Thomas.

“Danny actually talked to his audience,” Mr. King recalled in a 1991 interview. “And I realized I never talked to my audience. I talked at ‘em, around ‘em and over ‘em, but not to ‘em. I felt the response they had for him. I said to myself, ‘This guy is doing something, and I better start doing it.’”

Mr. King, who until then had been using old one-liners, found his new material at home, after his wife persuaded him to forsake his native Manhattan, in the belief that the suburban atmosphere of the Forest Hills sections of Queens would provide a better environment for their children.

Soon he was joking about seeing people moving from the city to the suburbs “in covered wagons, with mink stoles hanging out the back.”

His rantings about suburbia, just as America was embracing it, struck a chord with the public and soon he was appearing regularly on the Sullivan show, and such variety programs as “The Garry Moore Show” and “The Tonight Show.”

Bookings poured in, and he toured with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, played at New York’s showcase Paramount theater and performed at top nightclubs countrywide.

He also worked as the opening act for such music stars as Lena Horne, Billy Eckstine, Patti Page and Judy Garland, whom he joined in a command performance in London for Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and her husband, Prince Philip.

After that show, he was introduced to the queen, and when she asked, “How do you do, Mr. King?” he replied: “How do you do, Mrs. Queen?”

“She stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed,” Mr. King recalled. “Thank God Prince Philip laughed.”

Born Irwin Alan Kniberg, he grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Brooklyn.

“Both of them were tough neighborhoods, but I was a pretty tough kid,” he recalled in 1964. “I had an answer for everything … I fought back with humor.”

He married Jeanette Sprung in 1947 and they had three children, Robert, Andrew and Elaine Ray. When Mr. King was at the height of his career, he faced one son’s drug addiction and said he realized that he had neglected his family.

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