By Robert A. Vella
He was 85 years old, so his passing shouldn’t sadden me… but, it does. Tim Conway made me laugh. He made me laugh a lot. He was the most warmly entertaining comedian I’ve ever seen. His unmatched skill at physical comedy, combined with subtle witticisms and an array of sympathetic characters he created for himself, made Conway a unique and versatile performer.
I first watched Tim Conway on the popular TV series McHale’s Navy as a child. He played the goofy, bumbling, and naive Ensign Charles “Chuck” Parker alongside straight-man Ernest Borgnine as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale and the very underrated physical comedian Joe Flynn who played the explosively frustrated antagonist Captain Wallace B. Binghamton. The interplay between Conway and Flynn was the centerpiece of the show and it was memorably hilarious.
A few years later, Conway began appearing on the highly-acclaimed and award-winning The Carol Burnett Show and eventually became a permanent cast member along with the legendary Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Vicki Lawrence. Conway was superb on this long-running series, and he frequently caused the other actors to laugh uncontrollably in mid-performance. His characters were wide ranging from the aggravatingly imperturbable “Old Man” to the irritable boss (Mr. Tudball, played with a Swedish accent) of worthless secretary Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett). You can watch his famous dentist skit with Korman here:
“I’m heartbroken,” Burnett said in a statement to CNN. “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”
“The man was pure comedy. Riotously funny,” writer and producer Judd Apatow tweeted. “I finally got to see him work when he guest starred on The Larry Sanders show and he was all I dreamed he would be. As kind as he was funny. He will be missed.”
One of Conway’s most famous sketches from his time on “The Carol Burnett Show,” a dentist bit he performed with Harvey Korman, resurfaced on Tuesday, as did an old outtake in which Conway made all of his castmates descent into fits of laughter with a story about a circus elephant. Both were held up as examples of Conway’s unparalleled comedic ability.
I saw Conway in person once sometime in the late 70s or early 80s at the South Shore Room of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe hotel/casino. He opened for insult comic Don Rickles, and I actually felt sorry for the headliner because the audience was worn-out from laughter when he took the stage. Conway was just too funny. The entire show would’ve been better had Rickles opened for him instead, but that’s no knock on Rickles who was a remarkably funny comedian in his own right. It is, though, a fitting tribute to Conway. I don’t think there will ever be another one quite like him. Goodbye, Tim.