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Tim Conway, Comedy Great, ‘Carol Burnett Show’ Star, Dead at 85

Actor, writer picked up six Emmys over course of prolific career

LOS ANGELES - JULY 8:  Cast member Tim Conway on "The Carol Bunett Show" on July 8, 1975 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Tim Conway, the prolific comedian best known for his work on 'The Carol Burnett Show,' has died at the age of 85.

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Tim Conway, the versatile comedian best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, died Tuesday in Los Angeles, Variety reports. He was 85.

A representative for Conway said he died from complications from a long illness, including hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.

Conway was a prolific performer and writer throughout his career, though by his own admission, he always preferred being a supporting player rather than a star. “I don’t feature myself as being the head man,” he said in a 2004 interview (via NPR). “I would much rather stand in the background and make small, funny things go, than be up at the head of the class.”

Conway excelled at just that during his tenure on The Carol Burnett Show. He was a frequent guest on the sketch show for eight years before becoming a series regular in 1975. He ultimately took home four Emmys for his work on the show, three for performance and one for writing. A deft improvisor and a slapstick specialist, Conway regularly caused his co-stars Harvey Norman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Burnett herself to crack up in the middle of scenes.

Two of Conway’s best-known characters were the Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball. The former was a shuffling geriatric who struggled to complete high-energy tasks often required of him, while the latter was a pedantic businessman whose jobs were typically derailed by his dimwitted assistant, Mrs. Wiggins, played by Burnett.

Born in Willougby, Ohio in 1933, Conway got his start in comedy in the late Fifties after being discharged from the Army, writing and performing in sketches for local Cleveland TV stations. His big break came when he was cast as a regular performer on The Steve Allen Show, while later he starred in the hit Sixties sitcom, McHale’s Navy, for which he earned his first Emmy nomination. In 1970, Conway was given the chance to star in his own sitcom, The Tim Conway Show, and his own sketch/variety series, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, but neither lasted more than a season.

Along with his regular work on The Carol Burnett Show during the Seventies, Conway appeared in a series of family-friendly Disney comedies including The World’s Greatest Athlete and The Apple Dumpling Gang. Those films found him performing alongside his longtime friend, Don Knotts, with whom he would go on to make a pair of succesful independent comedies, 1979’s The Prize Fighter and 1980s The Private Eyes.

In the late Eighties, Conway starred in a series of short projects as a squat man named Dorf who spoke in a Swedish accent not dissimilar to his Mr. Tudball character. Along with his Dorf series, Conway continued to act in a variety of TV shows and films, notching guest appearances on shows like Coach and Mad About You.

Towards the end of his career, Conway even made inroads with a completely new generation of comedy fans, voicing the aging superhero Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants. In 2008, Conway won his sixth and final Emmy for his guest appearance on a Season Two episode of 30 Rock.

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