Every body has a story.
Every body has a story.
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March 24, 1953—January 21, 2022
Content warning: this article contains potentially disturbing content, including references to illness, death, and abuse. Please use your best judgment as to whether you wish to read the following content. Language is PG-13.
Louis Perry Anderson was born on March 24, 1953, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to trumpet player Louis William and homemaker Ora Zella (née Prouty) Anderson. His mother was allegedly a descendant of travelers on the Mayflower, a claim which apparently was worth absolutely nothing by the early 20th century. According to Anderson, his parents had a total of 16 or 18 children (depending on the source), but only 11 of them (six boys and five girls) survived past birth. Anderson was tenth of the eleven.
Anderson had nothing but wonderful things to say about his mother. While he and his siblings were growing up in a very poor household, his mother was a master at making ends meet, managing to uncomplainingly see a bright side to every situation, and serving as her children’s champion and protector. His father, not so much. Very few descriptions of Anderson’s father leave out these (or similar) words: “abusive” and “alcoholic.” It seems as if he just kind of hated mankind in general.
For a while his father (who had been a bugler in World War I) had played trumpet for singer/songwriter Hoagy Charmichael (whose compositions include “Georgia on My Mind,” Lazy River,” “Am I Blue?” and almost every piano teacher’s favorite practice song, “Heart and Soul”). There is no information available about when the elder Anderson held this job or how long it lasted.
The younger Anderson graduated from Johnson Senior High School in Saint Paul and went on to attend Antioch University, majoring in Political Science. Presumably he graduated from there at some point. His first job was counseling abused and neglected children, where the ability to lighten the mood by cracking a Louie Anderson-style joke probably came in quite handy.
Anderson’s father passed away in 1980. Anderson had already tried his luck on the comedy stage by that point, having accepted a dare to participate in a local comedy club’s open-mic night in 1978. (Surprisingly, his father encouraged him to pursue a comedy career, telling him he had the talent to be a success,) Anderson continued to dabble in comedy. In 1981 he competed in the Midwest Comedy Competition, hosted by the original King of the One-liners, comedian Henny “Take my wife…please” Youngman. Most sources say Anderson won the contest, while some say he came in third. Whatever the case, Youngman was impressed enough by him that he hired him as a joke writer. Anderson moved to Los Angeles, California, and started making appearances at The Comedy Store in L.A. and various comedy clubs around the country.
Anderson’s first movie appearance was in the small (but pivotal?) role of “Taxi Driver #2” in Cloak & Dagger, which starred Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) and Dabney Coleman (9 to 5, Boardwalk Empire). The movie had a limited release in the US on July 13, 1984, and then a wider release on August 10, 1984.
While most sources agree that Anderson’s first television appearance occurred in 1984, there are some differences of opinion as to whether it was on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson or a comedy special hosted by Rodney Dangerfield. The Dangerfield show was called The 9th Annual Young Comedians Special, and just as many sources claim it aired in 1985 as 1984, so…. He also made an appearance that year on Mike Douglas Presents, a variety special hosted by the popular daytime talk show host of the time, so that could have been Anderson’s television premiere. That being said, there’s no doubt that his Tonight Show appearance was by far the most important for his career. Carson loved his routine, which was usually the kiss of life for a young comic’s career during the Carson era, and things were no different for Anderson. He said that after his November 20th Carson appearance, the next day he was playing The Comedy Store at the Dunes [Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, now defunct] and the next week he was opening for the Commodores at Bally’s [Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, not defunct].
From then on, if there was a comedy-oriented talk show, game show, awards show, or television special airing, odds were pretty good that you would find Anderson on it.
Anderson soon got signed for a lead role in a 1985-planned television situation comedy that went on to last eight seasons. If you’re having trouble recalling Louie Anderson’s eight-season-long sitcom stardom, it’s because he was only in an unaired pilot episode. Someone who had a say in the matter didn’t like the “chemistry” between Anderson and the other lead actor, Bronson Pinchot. Anderson was fired, Mark Linn-Baker was brought in to replace him, and Perfect Strangers went on to enjoy a 1986-1993 150-episode run (151, if you count the Louie Anderson/Bronson Pinchot “unaired” pilot, which was eventually shown on television in 2006).
Between 1987 and 2006, Anderson participated in at least six “Comic Relief” annual charity shows.
For the ten or so years following his “discovery,” Anderson did a lot of stand-up comedy, sprinkling in a few movie and television jobs here and there. He had a small role in 1986’s Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and in 1987 he tried something completely different, filling in for talk show host Joan Rivers when she took some time off following the death of her husband. According to Anderson, the job was always one he wanted—until he tried it. He said it was too much work, trying to make celebrities interesting.
Before long, he landed another small part in a big movie, 1988’s Coming to America (affiliate link). The story he told about how he got the America role was that he had been dining at a restaurant when Eddie Murphy walked in with some acquaintances. (The two knew each other from having worked the comedy circuit together.) Anderson requested that the waiter charge Murphy’s party’s bill (to the tune of $600+) to Anderson’s credit card, asking the waiter not to mention it to Murphy until after Anderson had left. The next day/a few days later Murphy called Anderson to thank him and offer him the part. Murphy’s story about the same subject is that the film’s higher-ups told him the movie needed “a/another white character,” and Anderson was Murphy’s first choice to play the part. (Murphy allegedly said Anderson was the funniest white guy he knew.)
Also in 1988, Anderson starred in the ensemble movie The Wrong Guys, which costarred Anderson’s fellow stand-up comics Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis, and Tim Thomerson. The film was reportedly based on a story by writer/producer/director John Hughes (known for creating dozens of hugely popular films, including the Home Alone franchise and many “Brat Pack” movies of the 1980’s), but the movie’s director and co-writer, Danny Bilson, reportedly has said that part of his inspiration came from Anderson’s stand-up comedy. (Also in The Wrong Guys was Jonathan Brandis (article link), before his breakout roles in NeverEnding Story II and It.)
To show how versatile Anderson was, in 1988 he performed a very entertaining and successful dog act on Circus of the Stars #13.
In 1989 Anderson had his own televised comedy special, Louie Anderson: Mom! Louie’s Looking at Me Again (on Showtime?), and he appeared on the inaugural episode of the anthology series The Jim Henson Hour.
His mother died in 1990—too early, but at least she was around to see the beginning of his rise to icon status. Sometime prior to his mother’s death, Anderson had written a book titled Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child. In it, he “talks” to his father about things he probably wished he could have said to him in person while his father was alive. Anderson held off having it published until 1991, after his mother had passed away, in order to keep from opening old wounds.
The first self-help book he wrote was published in 1993. Goodbye Jumbo…Hello Cruel World chronicles his struggles with weight and self-acceptance.
Anderson’s comedy and likeness were immortalized in the 1995-1998 (and one 1994 episode) Saturday-morning animated series Life with Louie, which he created, wrote, produced, and starred in. The show was generally based on his childhood experiences. Over its run, it scored nine Daytime Emmy Award nominations and won three, two for Anderson himself for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program. The show also earned three Humanitas Awards over the years, which are awarded to (per their website) “honor film and television writers whose work inspires more compassion, peace, love, and dignity in the human family.”
Anderson also volunteered his time and talent to the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethon in 1995-1998 and 2007.
At the same time as he was working on the animated Louie series, he was also starring in the 1996 real-human-being Louie series, The Louie Show. It only ran for five or six episodes, which probably suited Anderson fine, since by the time the CBS honchos had changed it up to suit their collective vision, it no longer had any resemblance to Anderson’s.
In 1999, Anderson was selected to take over the hosting duties for the game show Family Feud, in the hopes it could be resurrected from its near-dead state. [A brief history of the early years of the show: hosted by actor and former stand-up comedian Richard Dawson from 1976-1985. Went off the air until 1988, when it began a 6-year run hosted by actor and stand-up comedian Ray Combs. Combs was fired in 1994 due to lagging ratings, and Dawson was brought back in to finish the season. The ratings didn’t improve much, so the show was shelved in 1995 and didn’t return until 1999, with Anderson at the helm.] Anderson hosted the show for three seasons until he was “let go.” The official story was that he was released from his contract because of lagging ratings; he said he was fired because he pressured the producers the double the prize money from $10,000 to $20,000 per episode. Anderson wasn’t too keen on his replacement as host, Home Improvement’s Richard Karn, predicting that the show wouldn’t last a year. (It lasted four.)
Other fun things Anderson did while hosting Feud included appearing as a guest star on the television shows Touched by an Angel, Ally McBeal, and Scrubs, participating in a comedian’s special on the quiz show The Weakest Link (reportedly winning $31,000 for charity), and guest panelist-ing on The Hollywood Squares.
Anderson had a second self-help book published in 2002, titled The F Word: How to Survive Your Family. Once one figures out that the F-word in question is Family, the title seems pretty self-explanatory. As usual, there is plenty of humor interlaced with his advice to make for easy reading.
2003: the bad news was, Anderson needed two medical procedures done on his heart that year. The good news was, they were both obviously successful. The other good news was, Anderson began a “residency” (residency = playing at the same club for an extended period of time) at the Excalibur (Hotel and Casino) in Las Vegas, performing his show “Louie: Larger Than Life.” He also took up actual residency in the area, which makes perfect sense. It just seems a bit odd that a comedian known for his clean comedy act was able to mesh so successfully with a city that prides itself in what Las Vegas prides itself in. He must have, though, because he stayed at the Excalibur for six years before moving on to Palace Station (Hotel and Casino) for a few years, and then somewhere “downtown” for a while, until around 2016.
Anderson was a fan of the card game poker and other types of gambling—a bit too much at times, according to him. In 2006, he participated in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. He didn’t do so well. Let’s hope he had a great time.
While headlining in Vegas, Anderson sprinkled in some appearances on television situation comedies, talk shows and comedy specials for fun.
Anderson appeared on the January 5, 2013, episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories. No spoilers here—the episode can be found online. In March of that same year Anderson took part in the short-lived televised reality competition show Splash. He was one of eleven celebrities who were coached by Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis to master the skill of diving (into a pool, not out of a plane). Although Anderson had a mishap/drowning scare in rehearsals, he went on to compete on the show. He made it to week five before withdrawing. To be fair to the other contestants, he probably only made it that far because two contestants had already withdrawn, one in week two and one in week three. Anderson himself had been eliminated in week four but was reinstated in week five because, well, I don’t know why he was reinstated. If he had not withdrawn in week five, his score in that episode had been high enough to keep him in the competition. Kudos to him for competing.
Somewhere about this time he was named “One of the 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comedians of All Time” by Comedy Central television network. He did not make the list of Rolling Stone magazine’s top 50 stand-up comedians of all time, probably because he wasn’t “edgy” enough for their tastes.
Zach Galifianakis offered Anderson the part of Christine Baskets on the FM comedy series Baskets (affiliate link) in 2016. Sources vary as to whether Anderson was the first choice for the role or the second, but it’s clear that it was his nasally, slow-paced twang that drew Galifianakis’s attention. Anderson played the role throughout the show’s entire run, from 2016-2019. He was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (2016-2018), winning in 2016. That year he also won the Critics Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Anderson fashioned the character on his mother.
Anderson suffered a personal blow in 2016, when his only younger sibling, Tommy, died in his sleep. Anderson had already lost most of his siblings by then, and each death was very painful for him, but Tommy’s was especially difficult. He was particularly close to his younger brother, often seeking his opinion regarding new comedy and project ideas. At least Tommy lived long enough to hear about Anderson’s Baskets role, and he was as excited as Anderson was about Anderson’s opportunity to use the role to honor their mother.
In 2017 he found time to play regularly in Las Vegas at Red Rock Resort’s Rocks Lounge, and occasionally at other venues. From 2017 to 2020, he regularly appeared on Funny You Should Ask, a game show not unlike Hollywood Squares, or so I’ve been told. All together, he appeared on 215 episodes.
Anderson appeared on the 2017 “Funny Gals vs. Funny Guys/Louie Anderson vs. Christina Milian” episode of Family Feud, which proves he was a good sport. The episode was unavailable online, but based on what I could find out about it, it appears his team was not victorious.
Anderson’s similar-to-but-almost-the-opposite-of-his-Dear-Dad-book book, Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too (affiliate link), was released on April 3, 2018. In Hey Mom, Anderson wrote stories about his life, generally expressing appreciation to his mother for her help with navigating through various challenges and situations he encountered, and the life lessons he learned from her wisdom. In his later years, he often championed the practice of making friends with one’s parents, and getting to know them as people, before it’s too late.
In 2020 or so, Anderson decided to lower his weight by working with a trainer and fasting intermittently, losing 40 pounds.
Anderson reprised his Coming to America role in 2021’s Coming 2 America, which was released worldwide via the internet on March 5.
On March 16, 2021, he appeared on a podcast with the sadly ironic title Life is Short with Justin Long, and in May he was on the podcast with the also sadly ironic title Bob Saget’s I’m Here for You. Another irony regarding the latter is that it is not safe for work (that’s not the ironic part), but because of Anderson’s language, not Saget’s (that’s the ironic part). [Bob Saget article link]
He performed in Las Vegas for the last time over Mother’s Day weekend 2021.
Allegedly Anderson was scheduled to have a Los Vegas residency from July 26 through September 6, 2021, but had to cancel to undergo medical tests in Los Angeles. That was when he found out he had blood cancer, specifically Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Anderson was scheduled to do a comedy tour with Rita Rudner from late summer 2021 through (at least) May of 2022. There is no information as to how many of the 2021 dates he was able to attend. Apparently he kept working almost until his final hospitalization, which was announced to the public on January 18, 2022. On January 21, he passed away in a Las Vegas hospital. He was predeceased by eight of his ten siblings and survived by two of his sisters, Lisa and Shanna Anderson.
At the time of posting, information regarding his final resting place had not been released to the public.
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If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or addiction, please call your regional or national substance abuse and mental health helpline. In the United States, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 24/7 National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).