Comic Rip Taylor, a regular on late night TV and game shows who was known for hosting “The $1.98 Beauty Show,” died Sunday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 84.
The news was confirmed by his publicist Harlan Boll.
“The greatest joy he had in life was the result of making others laugh,” Boll said. “He didn’t have an easy childhood. Abused and bullied, he said he discovered early that they weren’t hitting you if they were laughing.”
Taylor was known for his over-the-top delivery and penchant for confetti showers. He frequently appeared on TV game shows, and was a judge on “The Gong Show.” That show’s host and creator, Chuck Barris, was so impressed by Taylor’s jokes as a judge that he offered him the position of host of “The $1.98 Beauty Show.”
Each episode of the show, which aired from 1978 to 1980, would end with Taylor offering a bouquet of rotten vegetables and $1.98 in coins to the winner while saying, “You win the prize, you take the cake. You get the crown and a dollar ninety-eight.”
The man who would become known worldwide as Rip did not have a direct line into show business. He was born Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. in Washington, D.C., to a waitress and a musician and first worked as a congressional page before serving in the Army during the Korean War. Then he started performing stand-up in the Catskills.
“I sat on a stool telling jokes, and nobody was laughing,” he told UPI in 1992. “In desperation, I pretended to cry as I begged them to laugh. That killed ‘em.” It’s where he said the character “Rip” came from. Although he readily admitted stealing jokes from USO shows, the crying comedian bit got him to Ed Sullivan, where the TV show host — forgetting Taylor’s name — would say “get me the crying comedian.”
Success begat more success, and Taylor ended up on tour with Judy Garland and Eleanor Powell in Las Vegas in 1966. He would make more than 2,000 guest star appearances on shows such as “The Monkees,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night With David Letterman” and “Hollywood Squares.” With his bushy blond toupee, exaggerated eyebrows and walrus mustache, Taylor was a striking presence.
He was apparently so proud of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that he’d regularly schedule trips to buff and clean the square at 6625 Hollywood Blvd. Taylor also did a fair share of voice work for animated films and television, including “The Jetsons” and “The Addams Family,” for which he earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Uncle Fester.
He appeared on stage in “Anything Goes,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Sugar Babies,” where he took over for Mickey Rooney. He portrayed Fagin in “Oliver!” and Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.” Taylor also wrote and performed an autobiographical one-man play called “It Ain’t All Confetti.”
He also played himself in movies such as “Wayne’s World 2,” and in the early aughts made cameo appearances at the end of each of the three “Jackass” films, in which he rained down confetti to mark the end of the film.
Taylor reflected in that 1992 interview that he always considered himself an actor.
“Rip is funny because he’s crazy. Every night on stage, he’s cornered and put-upon,” Taylor said. “That’s what I am bringing into play as a straight actor.”
Taylor is survived by his partner, Robert Fortney.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.