Gallagher, the observational and prop comedian known for smashing watermelons as part of his act, has died at the age of 76.
TMZ reports that Gallagher passed away Friday, November 11th, under hospice care. He had been in ill health after suffering several heart attacks in recent years.
Born July 24th, 1946 as Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr., he graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1970 but chose a life in show business, first as the road manager for songwriter and comedian Jim Stafford, and then striking out on his own. In 1980, he released An Uncensored Evening on Showtime, which is credited as the first standup comedy special to air on cable television.
During his heyday in the 1980s, Gallagher was one of the most popular acts in comedy, filming 17 specials and becoming a mainstay on Showtime and HBO. His signature bit involved using a large wooden mallet — which he called the “Sledge-O-Matic” — to smash watermelons and other objects. The segment actually began as a parody of the Veg-O-Matic commercials that saturated television in the 1960s, but Gallagher’s wit ensured that the Slede-O-Matic lasted long after the Veg-O-Matic had been all but forgotten.
In 2004, Comedy Central ranked Gallagher as the 100th best standup comedian of all time. He took issue with his placement, however, saying in an interview at the time: “I looked at the other people and I was trying to find anyone I ever heard of. How could I be behind people I never heard of? … I made 13 one-hour shows for Showtime. I invented the one-man show on cable.”
In 2003, Gallagher ran for governor of California in the state’s gubernatorial recall election, and finished in 16th place after receiving nearly 5,500 votes.
As time went on, his act expressed more conservative political beliefs, and Gallagher was often criticized as being racist, sexist, and homophobic. During a famous appearance on WTF with Marc Maron, Gallagher stormed out after being pressed on his stereotypical and bigoted jokes.
In the recently released “Weird Al” Yankovic biopic, Gallagher was portrayed by Paul F. Tompkins.