Louie Anderson, a comedian much loved by LGBTQ+ audiences as well as others, has died of cancer at age 68.
Anderson died Friday at a hospital in Las Vegas, his publicist Glenn Schwartz told The Hollywood Reporter. He had been receiving treatment for a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Anderson was known for his stand-up comedy and for acting roles that included his Emmy-winning performance as Christine Baskets, the mother on the FX series Baskets. She was a “melancholy yet optimistic single mom,” as the Reporter puts it. The comic series ran from 2016 to 2019, and Anderson has said the portrayal was based on his own mother.
The comedian said little on the record about his private life. He married his high school sweetheart in 1985, but the marriage ended after four weeks. He was the subject of gay rumors, but he never said he was gay.
In the 1990s, he was blackmailed by a man named Richard Gordon, who said Anderson propositioned him for sex at a Vegas casino in 1993. Anderson initially paid Gordon $100,000, but Gordon came back with a demand for $250,000 more. Anderson went to the police, who arrested Gordon in 2000 in an undercover sting operation. Gordon was convicted and imprisoned.
Fellow comic Tom Rhodes once accused Anderson of groping him at a comedy club in the 1980s, and Rhodes made the accusation part of his stand-up act. Anderson addressed the matter in a 2018 interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
“I really regret that Tom felt put upon and felt uncomfortable,” Anderson said. “I had no idea. I was a big flirt back then, and so that’s a possibility that that happened, and I regret that. I regret that he would be put in that position. And I’m truly sorry for it.”
Rhodes spoke to the Times as well and said he had retired the story from his act. He said he would not put Anderson in the same category as the sexual predators being exposed by the #MeToo movement and “asked that his story not circulate further,” according to the Times. He expressed sympathy and admiration for Anderson.
Anderson was more open about his family of origin. Born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1953, he grew up in a housing project with 10 siblings. His father was an abusive alcoholic, while his mother was a loving woman who kept the family going. Anderson wrote several memoirs about the family experience and often praised his mother while acknowledging her imperfections.
When he won his 2016 Emmy for playing Christine Baskets, he said, “I haven’t always been a very good man, but I play one hell of a woman. This is for my mother, Ora Zella Anderson, who I stole every nuance, shameful look, cruel look, loving look [and] passive-aggressive line from.” She had died in 1990, but Anderson told the Los Angeles Times of his performance, “I’m pretty sure my mom orchestrated it from the great beyond.”
After graduating from high school, Anderson worked for several years as a youth counselor, but he began performing stand-up at Minnesota comedy clubs, making self-deprecating jokes about his family and his weight. He won the Midwest Comedy Competition in 1981, and that year’s host, veteran comic Henny Youngman, became his mentor.
He gained national fame after appearing on The Tonight Show in 1984. He became a fixture of comedy specials and won acting roles that included scene-stealing cameos in the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America and its sequel. He appeared in other films and had many TV guest spots, and he supplied the voices of himself and his father in the 1990s animated series Life With Louie, which portrayed him as a child. He won two Daytime Emmys for the performance. He also hosted the syndicated game show Family Feud and starred in a short-lived 1996 sitcom, The Louie Show.
Of his comedy, he once told The San Diego Union-Tribune, “I try to say, ‘Hey, aren’t we all pathetic?’ I just put myself out there as the main pathetic person: ‘I can’t stop eating, but I have to because I’ve already eaten everything.’ I’m laying it out there.”
Survivors include two sisters, Lisa and Shanna Anderson.