Louie Anderson has died at the age of 68 due to complications from blood cancer.
The veteran comedian had been diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that attacks the body’s white blood cells. Earlier this week, Anderson was admitted to a Las Vegas hospital for treatment. According to his publicist, he passed away Friday morning.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1953, Anderson worked his way through the standup circuit with incisive observations and deeply personal jokes about his weight. He made his television debut in 1984 with a star-making appearance on The Tonight Show, leaving the crowd in stitches after his opening line: “Hi, I can’t stay long, I’m in-between meals.” His willingness to mock himself made audiences more open to sharper stories about the indignities faced by overweight Americans. In that same performance, he explained, “People say, ‘Louie, why you do those fat jokes?’ ‘Cause if I didn’t, you guys would sit out there and go, ‘You think he knows he’s that big?’ Like I woke up one morning — ‘Oh, no! Honey, get in here!'”
Anderson had small roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Coming to America (1988), and served as the first celebrity guest on The Jim Henson Hour in 1989.
He took center stage in 1994 with Life with Louie, a wholesome animated series about his Midwestern upbringing, life with 10 siblings (Anderson was the second-youngest out of 11), and his difficult father. The show detailed how a young Anderson used comedy to deal with being bullied for his weight, and would win two Daytime Emmy awards during its three-year run.
Anderson’s career was briefly derailed in the late ’90s by blackmail. Richard John Gordon alleged that the comedian had propositioned him in a casino in 1993, and in 1997 demanded $100,000 or he would go to the tabloids. Fearing that he would lose his family-friendly image, Anderson acquiesced, but when Gordon returned to demand another $250,000, he finally sought help from law enforcement. Gordon was ultimately arrested after a high-speed chase. “It was really hard on me, “Anderson said later, “and I think it cost me some fans. But it gained me some other fans.”
He served as the host of Family Feud between 1999 and 2002, and guested on shows such as Scrubs, Grace Under Fire, and Touched by an Angel. His career entered an unexpected new act when he was cast as mother Christine Baskets in FX’s Baskets, earning three consecutive Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, winning once in 2016.
Anderson had a recurring role in Search Party in 2020, and stayed busy through last year with parts in Coming to America 2 (reprising his 1988 role), and a couple of episodes on Showtime’s Twenties.
Check out a selection of his best-loved works below.