Harvey Korman, the award-winning comedic actor who rose to fame playing second banana to Carol Burnett on her television variety series and who starred in hit movies like “Blazing Saddles” and “High Anxiety,” died in Los Angeles at 81.
The cause was complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said in a statement released by the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.
A tall man known for his outlandish characterizations, Mr. Korman was nominated for seven Emmys for his television work and won four. He also was nominated for four Golden Globe awards, winning one.
“Everything he did on ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ especially the Mother Marcus character, was a special favorite,” his daughter, Katherine Korman, said in an interview on Thursday. Mother Marcus, which he played in drag, “was a Yiddish grandmother based on his own real-life grandmother,” she said.
Mr. Korman also considered Hedley Lamarr, his role in the 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” as one of his favorites, she said.
A native of Chicago, Mr. Korman studied drama there and then tried, unsuccessfully, to break into show business in New York City.
"For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway," he said in an 1971 interview.
Eventually he gave up and returned to Chicago, but he later went to California to try again. After subsisting as a car salesman and movie doorman, in the mid-1960s he began getting minor movie parts, doing voice-overs as the Great Gazoo on “The Flintstones” and winning a TV spot on “The Danny Kaye Show.”
The Kaye show, which he joined in 1964, proved to be a springboard. It went off the air in 1967, but Mr. Korman soon landed a job on the Burnett show, which turned into his breakthrough. He was a natural fit with Ms. Burnett, and their weekly comedy sketches won high ratings for the show and a national audience for him.
Their performing partnership lasted for a decade, and both of their television careers faltered after they split. He became the host of “The Harvey Korman Show,” which ended after one season. Ms. Burnett acquired a new cast member in Dick Van Dyke, but that partnership did not have the same chemistry. Her show ended soon after.
Crediting Ms. Burnett for giving him an opportunity, Mr. Korman once said: "We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away."
Ms. Burnett “loved Harvey very much," according to her assistant, Angie Horejsi, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Korman’s career was far from over after he left the Burnett show. He appeared as a guest star in dozens of television series, specials and movies as recently as 2004. His roles covered a range of styles and included voice-overs in “Garfield and Friends,” Bud Abbott in “Bud and Lou,” co-host of “The Flintstones’ 25th Anniversary Celebration” and a guest appearance on “ER.”
Mel Brooks cast him not only in “Blazing Saddles” and “High Anxiety,” but also in “History of the World: Part I” (1981) and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995). His film career also included “Huckleberry Finn” (1974), “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976), “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983), “The Flintstones” (1994) and “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” (2000).
Mr. Korman reunited with a Burnett alumnus, Tim Conway, and toured the country to give live performances, reprising skits from the old shows as well as creating new material. “They had a private jet and went all over,” Katherine Korman said.
Mr. Korman had two children, Maria and Christopher, by his first marriage, to Donna Elhart, and two more children, Katherine and Laura, by his second marriage, to Deborah Fritz.
Even when off stage and off camera, Mr. Korman still loved to clown, his daughter Katherine said. “He was always funny in real life,” she said. “He would like to see how far he could push the limits, making people laugh. If he were here now, he would want us to be joking.”