Louie Anderson, beloved stand-up comedian, actor, and game show host died Friday at the age of 68.
The comedian’s death was confirmed by Anderson’s publicist, noting the cause of death as complications from cancer; earlier this week, it was revealed that Anderson was being treated in a Las Vegas hospital for Diffuse large B cell lymphoma.
“Born in St Paul Minnesota, the three-time Emmy Award winner was one of the country’s most recognized and adored comics,” his rep added. “His career spanned more than 40 years. He was a bestselling author, star of his own standup specials and sitcoms.”
Anderson notably overcame what he described a tough childhood in Minnesota, the 10th of 11 children in a poor household with a loving mother but an “abusive alcoholic father.” “We had to decide whether we would shut off the gas or the lights, because we could only pay one of them,” Anderson told Conan in 2019. “We always shut off the lights because my mom had a thousand candles.”
A giant in the comedy world, Anderson began his career as a writer for stand-up legend Henny Youngman before breaking out on his own in 1984 with a show-stopping appearance on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show:
Throughout the Eighties, the affable Anderson made brief but memorable appearances in films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (as a flower deliveryman) and Coming to America, with Anderson reprising the role of lettuce-washing McDowells employee Maurice in Coming 2 America earlier this year.
The following decade, Anderson’s childhood served as the inspiration for the animated series Life With Louie, as well as the short-lived sitcom The Louie Show. Anderson was also recruited to serve as host of Family Feud from 1999 to 2002 and was a stalwart on Hollywood Squares during the same period.
While never out of the spotlight, Anderson enjoyed a career renaissance in 2016 with his acclaimed role in the Baskets, playing Christine Baskets, the mother of Zach Galifianakis’ twin characters. Anderson received an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for the role.
Anderson based his portrayal of Christine Baskets after his own mother, a frequent inspiration and subject in his comedy. “It’s a great part,” Anderson told CBS Sunday Morning of the role in 2018. “Christine Baskets is everywoman. There’s a whole bunch of Christine Baskets in the world, and nobody’s representing them, and I am.”
“Mom! We did it!” Anderson said in his Emmy acceptance speech. “I haven’t always been a very good man, but I play one hell of a woman. This is for my mother, Ora Zella Anderson, who I stole every nuance, shameful look, cruel look, loving look [and] passive-aggressive line from.”
“Louis Anderson was pure. His essence triggered child-like euphoria when he was around,” Baskets co-creator and star Galifianakis said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He was caring and tender. And you learn that his tenderness was born out of pain. Makes you love him even more. I will miss him tremendously.”
“He was really a loving person who instantly felt like he had been in your family for a long time. All people I saw him interact with, he really wanted to make a genuine connection with and considered worthy of getting to know and making them laugh,” Baskets co-creator and director Jonathan Krisel told Rolling Stone Friday.
For Anderson, who admittedly wasn’t a great actor and struggled to find a sitcom to suit his talents in the Eighties — he was almost cast in Mark Linn-Baker’s role on Perfect Strangers, Krisel said — Baskets and the role of Christine Baskets were part of the “new kind of comedy” that Anderson felt was more in line with his own humor.
“Even though it was a crazy idea, it did seem right for some reason, and it happened within 20 minutes of the idea coming up and him saying yes,” Krisel said of casting Anderson. “Sometimes those things can take months. He understood it.”
While FX supported Anderson’s casting, co-creator and star Zack Galifianakis was “adamant” about keeping Anderson’s role a secret in order to surprise the viewer: Prior to the first season’s premiere, Anderson was kept out of press materials, and following Season 1, Anderson won his Primetime Emmy for the role.
“It was such an immersive performance. I feel lucky to have worked with him. He was just a truly special person, one in a million,” Krisel added.
Prior to Baskets, Krisel worked very briefly with Anderson on one episode of the Tim & Eric cartoon Tom Goes to the Mayor, executed produced by that duo and Bob Odenkirk. “To Bob, who is like the coolest, Louie was cool,” Krisel said. “He was cool to the alternative comedians and he was cool to Americana in general. There’s not that many people who are cool in both worlds, and [Anderson] was.”
“We are so deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, Louie Anderson. For four wonderful seasons, Louie graced us and fans of Baskets with a bravura performance as Christine Baskets, for which he deservedly was recognized by his peers with the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series,” FX, which aired Baskets, said in a statement.
“It was a risky role for him and he embraced it with a fearlessness and joy that demonstrated his brilliance as an artist. He truly cared about his craft and was a true professional in every sense. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and his Baskets family – Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel and Martha Kelly and all the cast and crew. He will be missed by us all but never forgotten and always bring a smile to our faces.”
Soon after, Anderson would appear in shows like Search Party (as a bumbling lawyer) and Young Sheldon. Anderson was also the author of several books that dealt with his childhood and self-esteem issues, including Dear Dad – Letters From an Adult Child and Hey Mom, featuring letters Anderson wrote to his late parents, and the self-help book The F Word: How to Survive Your Family.
Many in the comedy world who worked or were friends with Anderson paid tribute to the beloved comic following news of his death.
“Baskets was such a phenomenal ‘second act’ for Louie Anderson. I wish he’d gotten a third. RIP,” Michael McKean tweeted. Comedy Central tweeted, “Louie Anderson was a warm and hilarious presence in comedy. He’ll be missed.”
“Louie was a friend and supporter of mine since the 90s,” director Paul Feig tweeted. “He was always such a lovely man, always caring for those he worked with, always generous. And always so very funny. Thank you, Louie, for everything.”
This photo is very sad now. RIP Bob Saget and RIP Louie Anderson. Both good friends that will be missed. pic.twitter.com/DLJ8Ntt7LN
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) January 21, 2022