Tim Conway: Forever funny

‘Carol Burnett Show’ and ‘McHale’s Navy’ alum dies at age 85

To know how funny Tim Conway was, all you had to do was look at Harvey Korman.

The longtime friends and comedy colleagues made a habit of trying to crack each other up on camera during their years together in “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Korman dissolving into helpless guffaws in Conway’s presence was a prime highlight of watching that program. Conway’s death Tuesday (May 14) at age 85 stirs memories not only of those classic moments, but also of his earlier television work as the bumbling but lovable Ensign Parker on the 1960s sitcom “McHale’s Navy,” which was popular enough to yield two feature-film spinoffs.

Even before that, Conway had made a TV mark on “The Steve Allen Show” after Rose Marie discovered him while on a promotional tour for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He had been doing local work in his hometown of Cleveland when she passed through and spotted him, then she helped nurture his then-nascent career by bringing him to TV legend Allen’s attention.

In the post-“McHale’s” years, Conway would do plenty of other home-screen work … including his somewhat legendary one-night stand on an ABC sketch show called “Turn-On,” which so many people turned off, it lasted exactly one episode. In Conway’s own Cleveland, the network affiliate wouldn’t put the program back on its air after the first break for commercials.

The next big success for Conway certainly was “The Carol Burnett Show,” on which he had been a guest star before he joined the comedy-variety series permanently during its 1975-76 season. It would bring him multiple Emmy Awards, and though his many teamings with Korman on it are well-remembered, he also had plenty of solo showcases. Some were done virtually silently, which only amped up the humor while making ample use of Conway’s gift for physical comedy — sometimes under considerable makeup (as when he played “The Oldest Man”).

Conway’s absence was evident on last December’s CBS special saluting the 50th anniversary of “The Carol Burnett Show.” The title star explained that Conway had been feeling ”under the weather” at the time the program was taped, but he remained present in memorable clips included in the two-hour show. In a statement released on the day of his passing, Burnett said, “I’m heartbroken. He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”

In movies, Conway was something of a regular in family-friendly fare during the 1970s, extending to an association with the Disney studio for its “Apple Dumpling Gang” entries. He reunited with a co-star of those pictures, fellow TV-comedy veteran Don Knotts, to find modest success in “The Prize Fighter” and “The Private Eyes.”

With the pseudo-educational “Dorf” videos also among his credits, TV remained a big factor for Conway in later years, thanks to a bounty of cartoon voiceover work (“The Simpsons,” “The Wild Thornberrys,” etc.) and appearances on “Coach” and “30 Rock” that earned him additional Emmys. He was an inductee of the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

In a week that also has seen the passing of Doris Day, the entertainment world and many fans have lost another legend in saying farewell to Tim Conway … also a talent who was thoroughly unique in what he did and how he did it, and who forever will be remembered as such.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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