- Gallagher was a popular comedian, most well-known for breaking pumpkins with a sledgehammer.
- He did court controversy for his props hitting audience members and his use of stereotypes in his act.
- He died on Friday at 76.
Gallagher died at 76 on Friday, November 11. The comic, whose full name was Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr., passed away due to organ failure, according to a statement from his manager Craig Marquardo to CNN. The comedian’s rep confirmed his death in a statement to HollywoodLife. “He passed away today in Palm Springs, California, in hospice care,” they said.
Known for his bombastic stage show, which included him smashing watermelons, Gallagher was beloved by audiences for decades. The comedian had numerous Showtime comedy specials and performed all over the country. After decades in the spotlight, he’s been widely referenced in a number of parodies and tributes over the years. He’s survived by his daughter Aimee and son Barnaby. Find out more about the comic here.
1. Gallagher was a touring comic for over 40 years.
Gallagher’s comedy career began in the late 1960s, where he performed at the Comedy Store and Ice House. He made his debut on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson in 1975, which is considered a rite of passage for many comedians. He performed many times on the show over the years. As a comic, Gallagher was considered an innovator of prop comedy, and earned the nickname “The Wizard of Odd,” per The New York Times.
While he used a wide array of props, his signature joke was most well-known as the “Sledge-O-Matic,” which involved him taking a sledgehammer to a wide variety of fruits, but the most remembered were the watermelons. He said it was the first routine that he wrote in a 2011 interview with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast. He released his first special An Uncensored Evening in 1980, and his most recent performance was at New York’s Gotham Comedy Club in 2014 for Gotham Comedy Live.
2. He had a degree in chemistry.
While his prop comedy act may seem very simple, Gallagher’s early career before performing may surprise some. He graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida, with a minor in English. After he graduated, he worked briefly as a chemist and also as a manager for musician Jim Stafford. He admitted that he wasn’t sure what he would’ve applied his degree towards, but suggested perhaps cancer research in the aforementioned WTF interview. He also said he continued to meet with physicists as he toured in his career.
3. In later years, his act was criticized for offensive stereotypes.
While many beloved Gallagher’s silly form of prop comedy, some aspects of his performance courted controversy later in his career. He was reported to have made racist and homophobic jokes during his act in a 2010 review by The Stranger. Marc Maron confronted Gallagher about drawing on racist stereotypes during the 2011 WTF interview, which led to the comedian walking out on the podcaster. “Why are you taking the other side of everything I say?” Gallagher asked shortly before walking out.
Aside from his controversial jokes, Gallagher was sued by people who said they were injured because of his act. A woman in 1990 claimed she was hit by a prop and unsuccessfully tried to sue him, per The Los Angeles Times. He also claimed that he was sued by audience members who were injured by some of his prop comedy in a 2009 interview with The AV Club. “My insurance was actually canceled at one point because someone sued me saying that they had been hurt seriously by a candy bar in the balcony. Somehow a candy bar I hit with a tennis racket so the people on the balcony could have candy? Said that she was injured in her eye, and the insurance company decided not to fight her case and pay it off and canceled me!” he said. Gallagher would also occasionally heckle comedians who were hired to open for him.
4. He sued his brother over the ‘Sledge-O-Matic.’
During the 90s, Gallagher’s younger brother Ron Gallagher began to tour and perform his brother’s routine, originally with the original’s blessing. Ron performed under the name “Gallager Too” or “Two.” He performed many of the same prop comedy jokes that his brother did in his act, per The Baltimore Sun. Gallagher later sued Ron for using the “Sledge-o-Matic” routine against his wishes and also that his performances were advertised as being misleading, per Variety.
5. He ran for governor of California.
Aside from his comedy career and scientific interests, Gallagher also had political aspirations. He ran as an independent candidate for governor of California in 2003, but he only garnered about 5,000 votes, according to election records.