LOS ANGELES (AP) — Louie Anderson, whose 40-year career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely role as the mother of adult twin sons on the Emmy Award-winning series Baskets, died Friday. He was 68 years old.
Anderson died in a Las Vegas hospital from complications from cancer, said Glenn Schwartz, his longtime publicist. Anderson had a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Schwartz said earlier.
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Baskets was such a phenomenal “second act” for Louis Anderson. I wish he got a third,” wrote Michael McKean on Twitter. George Wallace wrote: “You will be missed, Louis. What a great friend. One in a million.”
The burly, chubby Anderson used his height and colorful childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota as the basis for his early standup performances.
In an interview with the Associated Press in 1987, Anderson compared himself to another comedian who was looking for comedy as a child.
“Bill Cosby and I had similar goals,” Anderson told AP. “I wanted parents to be able to bring their kids and kids to be able to bring their parents to my shows. I feel that a family that can laugh at family problems is better. The difference between Cosby and me is that he sees it from the point of view of an adult, and I tell it from the point of view of a child.
He struggled with weight all his life, but said in 1987 that he stopped using his size as stage material.
“I have always been big,” he said. “But I don’t tell fat jokes anymore.”
In later years, his life as one of 11 children in a family headed by a troubled father and devoted mother became a deeper source of reflection and inspiration for Anderson, both in his screen work and in his best-selling books.
His latest 2018 book, Hello Mom, was a letter-length tribute to the lessons he learned from it and practical advice for dealing with life’s challenges. He also praised the late Ora Zella Anderson for her role in Baskets.
“I just started writing with one letter saying, ‘Hi mom, I’m playing you on TV. I hope you see it. I hope you’re part of this…” Anderson told The Associated Press that same year.
In 2016, he won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, the mother of the twins played by Zach Galifianakis, on the FX series Baskets. Anderson, who received three consecutive Emmy Award nominations for the role, credited elements of the character to his mother.
Anderson’s early work included counseling troubled children. He changed course after winning a Midwest comedy competition in 1981, where he was spotted by veteran comedian Henny Youngman, who, according to Schwartz, was hosting the competition.
Anderson worked as a screenwriter for Youngman and later gained stage experience while traveling around the United States. His big break came in 1984 when Johnny Carson, known for showcasing rising comedians on
“The Tonight Show” prompted him to perform.
He has been known throughout television, including as the host of a revival of the game show Family Feud from 1999 to 2002, as well as comedy specials and frequent late-night talk shows.
Anderson voiced an animated version of himself as a child in Life with Louie. He created an animated series that first aired in prime time in late 1994 and was then moved to Saturday mornings between 1995 and 1998. For this role, Anderson received two Daytime Emmy Awards.
He has made guest appearances on several television series, including Scrubs and Touched by an Angel, and was on the big screen in 1988’s Coming to America and last year’s Eddie Murphy comedy sequel.
In an interview with the magazine, Anderson said he got the part after spotting Murphy, whom he knew, working at comedy clubs in a Los Angeles restaurant. Anderson said hello and then made a costly decision that paid off.
“Take Eddie Murphy’s check and put it on my credit card, but don’t tell him until I’m gone,” Anderson told the waiter. He ended up paying $600, but Murphy called to thank him and offered to write a part for him in Coming to America, Anderson said.
His books included Dear Dad – Letters from a Grown Child, a collection of Anderson’s letters to his late father; Goodbye Jumbo… Hello Cruel World, a self-help book, and The F Word, How to Survive in a Family.
His surviving sisters include Lisa and Shanna Anderson.
Associated Press reporter Cathy Vasquez contributed to the story.