Famously Eccentric Comedian Irwin Corey Dies At 102

Feb 7, 2017
Originally published on February 7, 2017 9:49 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Irwin Corey described himself as the world's foremost authority. The famously eccentric comedian was kidding of course, but it took a special sort of person to accept a national book award on behalf of the reclusive author Thomas Pynchon and then appear in the movie "Car Wash" two years later. Irwin Corey died at his Manhattan home yesterday at the age of 102. Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: His shtick was dressing up like a dotty professor and answering questions on late-night TV talk shows in the 1950s and '60s, questions like, why is the sky blue, and, why did the chicken cross the road?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IRWIN COREY: Well, actually, it's not a chicken. It's a rooster that's looking for a chicken.

(LAUGHTER)

COREY: That's what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That explains it.

COREY: The chicken stays where he is. The rooster comes to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I see. Why is it that women don't have whiskers?

COREY: Well, you've been going out with the wrong girls.

ULABY: Corey's subversive, absurdist patter influenced comedians such as Lenny Bruce and the Smothers Brothers. It's difficult to verify all the claims of someone born in 1914, but Irwin Corey said his parents left him at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphanage Asylum, and he started doing comedy there to cheer up other kids. Corey also likes to talk about getting kicked out of the Army during World War II for pretending to be gay and being blacklisted by Hollywood even though the communists did not want him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COREY: They said I was an anarchist, and they wouldn't let me in the party.

ULABY: Irwin Corey at the age of 97 performing at an Occupy Wall Street fundraiser in New York. The staunch supporter of far left-wing causes contributed to the defense fund of American activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a cop in 1981. And Corey made headlines in New York just a few years ago for raising money for Cuban children by panhandling outside his multimillion-dollar Manhattan house. At the event for Occupy, the man known as the foremost authority offered advice on getting rich.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COREY: Borrow from your friends, and when they ain't got any more money, make new friends.

ULABY: Over the course of an extremely long life, Irwin Corey ran for president on the Playboy ticket, appeared on Broadway and in movies with Woody Allen and Robin Williams. He was married to his wife, who died in 2011, for 70 years. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI SONG, "KISARAZU ZINKU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.