(Reuters) – Emmy-winning actor Tim Conway, who brought an endearing, free-wheeling goofiness to skits on “The Carol Burnett Show” that cracked up his cast mates as well as the audience, died on Tuesday at the age of 85, his publicist said.
Publicist Howard Bragman said Conway died in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday morning. Prior to his death, he had suffered complications from normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) and had no signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, Bragman said.
Conway won three Emmy awards for acting on the Burnett show and a fourth as a writer in the 1960s and ‘70s. He also won guest actor Emmys for a 1996 appearance on “Coach” and another in 2008 for “30 Rock.”
Burnett said on Tuesday she was “heartbroken” at Conway’s death.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Vicki Lawrence, who co-starred on “The Carol Burnett Show,” called Conway “hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable…The angels are laughing out loud tonight,” the actress wrote on Tuesday in an Instagram posting.
Conway first found television fame on the 1960s comedy “McHale’s Navy” playing Ensign Parker, a befuddled by-the-book officer in a group of unconventional sailors in the Pacific during World War Two.
He would find greater success in the comedy sketches on Burnett’s show starting in 1968. He was at his best with characters that were a little naive, clumsy or slow-witted, and especially when teamed with straight man Harvey Korman and given the chance to show off his improvisational and slapstick skills.
“Nobody could be with Tim and keep a straight face once he got on a roll,” Burnett said in a 2003 interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
She said Conway would stick with a sketch’s script through dress rehearsal but once it was time to tape the performance for a broadcast, he began freelancing. His improvised antics often reduced his co-stars – especially his close friend Korman – to tears of laughter.
“I think Conway’s goal in life was to destroy Harvey,” Burnett told the Television Academy Foundation.
In one popular skit, Conway’s portrayal of an inept dentist who accidentally injects himself with painkiller resulted in Korman, who was playing the patient, laughing so hard that he wet his pants, Burnett said.
Conway’s other most memorable recurring characters included an elderly man whose shuffling pace always caused trouble and Mr. Tudball, a businessman plagued by an indifferent and inept secretary played by Burnett.
Conway started on the show as a guest star in its first season in 1967 but did not officially become a regular until 1975.
“People have often asked me, ‘If you weren’t in show business, what would you be doing?’” Conway wrote in his memoir “What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life.” “The truth is I don’t think there’s anything else I could be doing so the answer would have to be, nothing … I guess you could say I’m in the only business I could be in.”
His popularity on the Burnett program led to his own shows – a sitcom in 1970 and a variety show in 1980 – and they lasted about a year each. He said they failed because he was not comfortable being the star.
Before Korman’s death in 2008 he and Conway toured with an act that featured stand-up comedy, recreations of their better-known skits and question-and-answer sessions with the audience.
His movie work included “The World’s Greatest Athlete” in 1973, “The Apple Dumpling Gang” in 1975, “The Shaggy D.A.” in 1976, “The Prize Fighter” in 1979 and “Private Eyes” in 1980.
Conway also starred in the “Dorf” series of short videos as a sawed-off golf instructor, borrowing the accent his Mr. Tudball character used. He said Dorf was one of his favorite characters.
Conway, who was born on Dec. 15, 1933, grew up near Cleveland and after serving in the Army worked in Cleveland radio and developed comedy routines. Actress Rose Marie, a co-star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” liked his work and helped him get a regular spot on “The Steve Allen Show” in the early 1960s.
Writing by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Diane Craft