Tim Conway, the cherub-faced comedian who became a TV star for playing the bumbling Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy and for cracking up his helpless colleagues on camera on The Carol Burnett Show, has died. He was 85.
A five-time Emmy Award winner, Conway died Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. in Los Angeles, his rep confirmed. According to recent reports, he was suffering from dementia and unable to speak after undergoing brain surgery in September.
For four seasons beginning in October 1962, the impish actor provided the heart and a lion’s share of the laughs on ABC’s McHale’s Navy as the sweet, befuddled second-in-command on a PT boat full of connivers and con men led by the show’s title character, played by Ernest Borgnine.
Despite having the best intentions, Ensign Charles Parker always managed to make things worse with his ineptitude. Joe Flynn, as the harried Captain Binghamton, was usually on the receiving end of his missteps. Their exchanges often led to slapstick catastrophe — much to viewers’ delight — and Conway earned an Emmy nomination in 1963 for his work.
Conway’s popularity skyrocketed after he joined CBS’ The Carol Burnett Show in 1975 for good after making numerous guest appearances on the program (he would be a regular on four of its 11 seasons). His array of goofy characters, combined with his impeccable comic timing, helped make the show a classic. He won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for performing and another Emmy for his writing on the series.
In an October 2013 appearance in Beverly Hills to tout the release of Conway’s memoir, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life.
Born Thomas Daniel Conway on Dec. 15, 1933, in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, Ohio, Conway majored in speech and radio at Bowling Green State University. After graduation, he served with the U.S. Army before returning to Cleveland and landing a job at a radio station. His initial duties were answering mail and writing promotional material.
The 5-foot-6 Conway segued into television, taking a gig with local on-air personality Ernie Anderson, first at NBC affiliate KYW and then at CBS affiliate WJW. (Around this time, he changed his first name to avoid confusion with actor Tom Conway, the star of The Falcon movies.)
Conway also appeared on the small screen on Newhart, The Golden Palace, Cybill, Married … With Children, The Larry Sanders Show, The Drew Carey Show, Clueless, 7th Heaven, Mad About You, Diagnosis Murder, Yes, Dear, Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly, among other shows.
He added two Emmy statutes to his trophy shelf for guest appearances on Coach and 30 Rock.
In 1999, Conway found a new generation of fans when he voiced the character of Barnacle Boy for SpongeBob SquarePants.
The comedian supported several charities. Wanting to be a jockey when he was younger and later the owner of race horses, Conway co-founded the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund to aid injured and disabled jockeys.
Conway was married twice. In 1961, he wed Mary Anne Dalton. During their 17 years together, they had six children, including L.A. radio personality Tim Conway Jr. In 1984, he married Charlene Conway, and they had one child.
His wife and a daughter from his first marriage, Kelly, sparred in court in March over whether he should be placed under a conservatorship.