The brash wisecracker, who starred on stage and screen, dies of lung cancer

May 10, 2004 09:00 AM

Comedian Alan King, 76, who was also an accomplished screen actor and movie and stage producer, died of lung cancer in a New York hospital Sunday, his family announced.

While audiences knew King as a brash, cigar-puffing comic in the Milton Berle mode, in person he was a soft-spoken and courtly gentleman. Yet he was also never beyond tossing out a perfectly timed wisecrack.

When the beautiful actress Diahann Carroll walked past his table in the Russian Tea Room, looking as if she had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion spread, King quipped for the entire restaurant to hear: “It’s a shame she’s let herself go like that.”

A staple on the Ed Sullivan show, King’s routines often revolved around the annoyances of suburban marriage and his mother-in-law, though often the target of his punchlines were anything but suburban.

Once, after performing for Queen Elizabeth II in London, he was introduced to Her Majesty. “How do you do, Mr. King?” said Elizabeth. “How do you do, Mrs. Queen?” he replied. (Afterwards, he recalled, “She stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed. Thank God Prince Philip laughed.”)

King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg and grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Brooklyn. Comedian Jerry Stiller, who knew King for more than 50 years, told the Associated Press that King was “in touch with what was happening with the world, which is what made him so funny.”

King’s more than 20 films included Bye Bye Braverman, I, the Jury, The Anderson Tapes, Lovesick, Bonfire of the Vanities, Casino and Rush Hour 2. He also produced the movies Memories of Me, Wolfen and Cattle Annie and Little Britches, and the 1997 TV series The College of Comedy with Alan King.

King is survived by his wife of 57 years, Jeanette, with whom he had three grown children.

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