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Minnesota comedy legend Louie Anderson dies of cancer at 68

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Minnesota comedy legend Louie Anderson dies of cancer at 68

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Louie Anderson, the Emmy-winning comedian who used his wit of self-mockery and deep affection for Minnesota to make the world laugh, died Friday of cancer in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 68 years old.

“We’re all devastated,” said his nephew Josh Frohlaug, who followed in his uncle’s footsteps as a stand-up. “He wasn’t just a great comedian, he was a great guy.

“I grew up without a dad, so he was my father figure. He taught me a lot more about being a person than about acting.”

Anderson had a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, her publicist said.

A pioneer of the Twin Cities stand-up scene, he helped turn Minneapolis dive bar Mickey Finn’s into a safe space for amateur comedians in the late 1970s with his friend Scott Hansen, who died last September.

Jeff Gerbino, who was emcee when Anderson first took the stage, said he was impressed with his friend’s ability to improvise with the rowdy bar crowd.

“It was better than his usual act,” Gerbino said. “He was killing them.”

Anderson was catapulted into the national spotlight in 1984 when he made his television debut on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”

“I can’t stay long,” he said atop his appearance. “I’m between meals.”

Her routine impressed Carson so much that Anderson was invited to sit on the couch – a rare invitation for a beginner.

KQRS Radio host Tom Barnard, who has invited Anderson on several occasions, remembers the appearance well.

“It was amazing,” he said. “You knew after that he was going to explode really high.

He quickly became one of the nation’s most beloved stand-ups, selling out comedy clubs across the country, appearing in blockbuster movies (“Coming to America”), writing bestselling books (“Dear Dad : Letters From an Adult Child”) and developing a popular children’s cartoon series, “Life With Louie”.

Gerbino, who let Anderson stay with him and his wife in Los Angeles during this time, said one of the talents of comedy was indulging in the likes of stars like Rodney Dangerfield.

“He made you want to do things for him,” Gerbino said.

Through it all, Anderson never forgot Minnesota. His difficult childhood in Saint-Paul figured prominently in his act. His New Year’s Eve shows in the Twin Cities have become an annual event.

“There’s no debate. He’s the greatest of all time when it comes to being a comedian, a trailblazer and a mentor in Minnesota comedy,” said Patrick Strait, who presented Anderson in “The Funny Thing About Minnesota”, a recent book about the rise of the local comedy scene. “He proved you can be funny and stay true to your Minnesota roots wherever you go.”

Anderson’s stardom was fading in the late 1990s. A CBS sitcom, “The Louie Show,” set in Duluth, was canceled after just six episodes. He hosted “Family Feud” for three seasons but was later let go. He turned his attention to Las Vegas, where he held residencies from 2003 to 2012.

In 2013, Anderson agreed to take part in a reality show, “Splash”, in which he nearly drowned.

“Do you know why I said yes to that?” Anderson told the Star Tribune two years later. “Because no one else had asked me for a job. In show business, you just want people to think of you.”

But he came back strong when Zach Galifianakis asked Anderson to play his mother in an FX series, “Baskets”. The performance – inspired by Anderson’s own mother – won him an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

“Oh my God, I won! I can’t believe it,” he told the Star Tribune by phone in 2016 shortly after his name was called. “It’s like a reboot for me.”

He was nominated again the following year. FX released a statement Friday praising the actor: “It was a risque role for him and he embraced it with a fearlessness and joy that demonstrated his genius as an artist.”

After the show’s four seasons wrapped up in 2019, Anderson maintained a busy stand-up schedule, often appearing at small venues in the Twin Cities to test out new content.

Local comedian Joe Tanner said these home visits give artists like him a chance to learn from a legend.

“Hollywood doesn’t usually come to Anoka,” said Tanner, who once won a contest to open for Anderson. “So sit with this guy and talk like an ordinary human being? You can’t put money on that.

“He wasn’t just my buddy. He was everyone’s buddy.”

Mike Brody, one of many young Twin Cities comedians to win his support, said: “He was always incredibly nice and supportive, even though I accidentally said ‘son of a bitch’ once during from one of his shows I was performing on.” (Anderson refrained from swearing in his act.)

Minneapolis comedian Jenn Schaal posted, “You made me feel special. Your impact on all of us is exponential.”

Celebrities around the world also mourned him on social media.

“‘Baskets’ was such a phenomenal ‘second act’ for Louie Anderson. I wish he had a third,” actor Michael McKean tweeted. Comedy legend George Wallace wrote, “We will miss you, Louie. What an awesome friend. One in a million.”

“Louie Anderson was one of the funniest, kindest people I’ve ever met in this world,” Bill Engvall wrote. “We toured together on certain dates, and every time I saw him he would greet me with a big hug and tell me how happy he was to see me. I don’t know why all these people are leaving us, but he there’s a huge hole in my heart this morning.”

Rock singer and fellow casino vet Eddie Money called Anderson “the nicest man I’ve ever met in show business”.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried posted a photo of Anderson with Bob Saget, the comedian and actor who died on January 9: “This photo is very sad now,” he wrote. “Two good friends who will be missed.

Writer Chris Riemenschneider contributed to this report.

Minnesota comedy legend Louie Anderson dies of cancer at 68

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