The veteran entertainer succumbs to cancer in New York

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated October 03, 2005 05:00 PM

Actor-comedian Nipsey Russell died Sunday in New York.

Russell died of cancer at Lenox Hill Hospital, his longtime manager, Joseph Rapp, tells PEOPLE. He was in his early 80s. (Rapp says Russell was born in 1923, though some reports say he was born in 1924.)

“He was a wonderful guy,” says Rapp. “Very quiet, highly intelligent, always there for his friends. He was like part of my own family.”

Russell, a veteran entertainer who performed on stage and screen, scored his first major TV role as Officer Anderson in the 1960s TV show Car 54, Where Are You? He also often appeared on shows such as the The Dean Martin Show, the Tonight Show, Laugh-In and Fame. On the variety programs, Russell performed short poems, earning him the nickname “the poet laureate of television.”

Russell also played the Tin Man in the 1978 movie musical The Wiz, a variation of The Wizard of Oz.

He is survived by some cousins, Rapp said. He never married or had children.