(WJW) — Legendary stage comedian Gallagher, who died Friday at 76, told FOX 8 he briefly lived in Northeast Ohio as a child.
Though the comedian was born Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, his family later moved to Lorain. They lived there until he was 9 years old, when they moved away due to his asthma, Gallagher told FOX 8’s Wayne Dawson and Stefani Schaefer in 2015.
“My dad loved boats, so we went to Florida,” he said.
Gallagher said he never intended to be a comedian. When he wrote his signature “Sledge-O-Matic” bit — in which he smashes various foodstuffs, including a watermelon, with a wooden mallet — he first sent it to George Carlin. But Carlin sent it back, he said.
“I write my own material,” Carlin told him.
“I mentioned that to [Carlin] years later and we had a good laugh about it, because I made millions off that, and I was giving it away,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher said he lived in Florida until he met comedian and singer-songwriter Jim Stafford and started touring with him. Gallagher wrote for him and oversaw his career — “then I decided to do it myself,” he said.
With a beret on his head and a few simple props, from a can of oil to a bullwhip, he built a nationwide following in the 1970s and ’80s, appearing on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson and starring in numerous Showtime specials.
It took some time for Carson — who preferred more classy, “button-down” comedy — to warm up to Gallagher, who often wore T-shirts that inevitably became splattered with food bits.
“I wanted people to relax around me,” Gallagher told FOX 8. “In those days, you had to be on the ‘Tonight’ show to have a career in comedy. It was a bottleneck you had to get past.”
Craig Marquardo, in a statement identifying himself as Gallagher’s “longtime former manager,” said Gallagher died Friday at his home in Palm Springs, California, after a brief illness. Gallagher had numerous heart attacks over the years, including one right before a scheduled show in Texas in 2012.
Gallagher in 2015 told FOX 8 he’d had four heart attacks. Each time, he woke up in a hospital nearby, he said. That weekend in 2015, he was scheduled to play at the Funny Stop Comedy Club in Cuyahoga Falls. He had just put out a new album, “I Am Who I Pretend to Be.”
Across his career, Gallagher toured for nearly four decades, while other performers went off-stage or on-screen, Variety reported.
Gallagher, considered to be “the first real star to come out of cable television,” had 16 comedy specials and performed at 3,500 live shows and was the No. 1 comedian in ticket sales for 15 years, according to his website.
When asked to offer his advice to modern comedians, Gallagher said: “Just work. Forget about the money. Get in front of people. Keep what works and get rid of what didn’t work.
“Comedians these days don’t know who they are because they don’t communicate that when they get on stage,” he told FOX 8. “They don’t present themselves as a character and let you know who you are.
“What Gallagher says to America is: ‘Nothing matters. Have fun.'”