Alan King (born Irwin Alan Kniberg; December 26, 1927 – May 9, 2004) was an American actor and comedian known for his biting wit and often angry humorous rants. King became well known as a Jewish comedian and satirist. He was also a serious actor who appeared in a number of movies and television shows. King wrote several books, produced films, and appeared in plays. In later years, he helped many philanthropic causes.
King in 1966
Irwin Alan Kniberg
December 26, 1927
|Died||May 9, 2004 76) (aged|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, writer, film producer|
|Spouse(s)||Jeanette Sprung (1947–2004; his death; 3 children)|
King was born in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Minnie (née Solomon) and Bernard Kniberg, a handbag cutter; he had one sister, Anita Kniberg. He spent his first years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Later, King's family moved to Brooklyn. King used humor to survive in the tough neighborhoods. As a child, King performed impersonations on street corners for pennies.
When he was fourteen, King performed "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" on the radio program Major Bowes Amateur Hour. He lost first prize, but was invited to join a nationwide tour. At fifteen, King dropped out of high school to perform comedy at the Hotel Gradus in the Catskill Mountains. After one joke that made fun of the hotel's owner, King was fired; however, he spent the remainder of that summer and the one that followed as M.C. at Forman's New Prospect Hotel in Mountaindale, New York. He later worked in Canada in a burlesque house while also fighting as a professional boxer. He won twenty straight fights before losing. Nursing a broken nose, King decided to quit boxing and focus on his comedy career. King began working as a doorman at the popular nightclub Leon and Eddie's while performing comedy under the last name of the boxer who beat him, "King".
King began his comedy career with one-liner routines and other material concerning mothers-in-law and Jews. His style of comedy changed when he saw Danny Thomas performing in the early 1950s. King realized that Thomas was talking to his audience, not at them, and was getting a better response. King changed his own style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. His comedy inspired other comedians such as Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, and Bill Cosby.
King married Jeanette Sprung in 1947. They had three children, Andrew, Robert, and Elainie Ray. His wife persuaded him to move to Forest Hills, Queens for their children, and later, to Great Neck, Long Island, where he lived for the rest of his life. There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. With America moving to suburbs, King's humor took off.
He began opening for celebrities including Judy Garland, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne and Tony Martin. When Martin was cast in the movie Hit the Deck, he suggested King for a part, which resulted in his first movie role. King played small roles in movies in the 1950s, but disliked playing stereotypical roles that he described as "always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski".
King eventually expanded his range and made a name for himself in a wide variety of films. He often portrayed gangsters, as in Casino (1995) and Night and the City (1992), both starring Robert De Niro, as well as I, the Jury (1982) and Cat's Eye (1985). He frequently worked for director Sidney Lumet, beginning with Bye Bye Braverman (1968) and The Anderson Tapes (1971). Lumet later cast him in a starring role in Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), a provocative comedy about a ruthless business mogul and his TV-producer mistress (Ali MacGraw). He also played himself in an uncredited cameo in Lumet's film Prince of the City (1981).
He had another major role in Memories of Me (1988) as the so-called "king of the Hollywood extras," portraying Billy Crystal's character's terminally ill father. King played the role of corrupt union official Andy Stone in Martin Scorsese's 1995 film Casino.
Like many other Jewish comics, King worked the Catskill circuit known as the Borscht Belt. His career took off after appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show and The Garry Moore Show. Living just outside New York City, King was frequently available when Sullivan needed an act to fill in for a last-minute cancellation. King also became a regular guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and he hosted the Oscars in 1972 and was the MC for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. King was the long-standing host of the New York Friar's Club celebrity roasts and also served as the club's historian. He headlined two unsold television pilots on CBS, both titled The Alan King Show. The first aired on September 8, 1961; the second aired on July 12, 1986.
King was the first recipient (1988) of the award for American Jewish humor from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The award was ultimately renamed in his honor.
Throughout his life, King was deeply involved in charity work. He founded the Alan King Medical Center in Jerusalem, raised funds for the Nassau Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children (near his home in Kings Point, New York), and established a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University. He also created the Laugh Well program, which sends comedians to hospitals to perform for patients. In the 1970s, King turned his passion for tennis into a pro tournament at Caesars Palace Las Vegas called the Alan King Tennis Classic, which was carried on national TV by the TVS Television Network. He also started the Toyota Comedy Festival. He was survived by his wife—appropriately a theme of one of his most famous routines—Jeanette Sprung, whom he married in 1947, and their three children.
King, who smoked cigars heavily (a fact that came up in his routines from time to time), died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on May 9, 2004, from lung cancer. He was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. The movie Christmas with the Kranks was dedicated to his memory at the end of the credits before the 1492 Pictures logo. He is also referenced in the end credits of Rush Hour 3.
- Anybody Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It, with Kathryn Ryan (1962)
- Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964)
- Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater (1985)
- Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King (1996) with Chris Chase
- Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book (2002)
- Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish (2005)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Alan King|
- Weber, Bruce (May 10, 2004). "Alan King, Comic With Chutzpah, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
- Alan King Biography (1927-)
- Ho, Janie. "Alan King, Comic, Actor Dies at 76" Archived 2010-12-06 at the Wayback Machine, CBS News, May 9, 2004. Accessed June 18, 2009. "King, who until then had been using worn out one-liners, found his new material at home. His wife had persuaded the New Yorker to forsake Manhattan for suburban Forest Hills, Queens, believing it would provide a better environment for their children."
- Archived May 10, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
- Terrace, Vincent (2009). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2007 (Volume 1 A-E). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-3305-6.
- "Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind" (1991)
- TV Weekend; James Garner as a Curmudgeon Pulled Back Into Life - New York Times
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alan King.|
- Alan King on IMDb
- Alan King at the Internet Broadway Database
- Alan King at Find a Grave
- Author Unknown. Comic and actor Alan King dead at 76, CNN. (May 9, 2004)
- Ephross, Peter. Alan King a Model for Seinfeld, Crystal, Jewish Journal.
- Author Unknown. Alan King Remembered As Comedic Terminator, WNBC. (May 12, 2004)
- Weber, Bruce. Alan King, Comic With Chutzpah, Dies at 76, New York Times. (May 10, 2004)
- Williams, Stephen. The Comic Laureate Of Long Island, Newsday. (May 13, 2004)
- Vosburgh, Dick. Master of the 'angry' comic monologue, The Independent. (21 May 2004)
- Sen, Indrani Alan King Dies at 76, Newsday. (May 2004)
- Comic Alan King Dead at 76, Variety. (May 10, 2004)
- Cooper, Chet. Prescription for Laughter: An Interview with Alan King, Ability Magazine.
- Bernstein, Adam. Comedian and Actor Alan King Dies at 76, Washington Post. (May 10, 2004)
- Alan King Award in American Jewish Humor. Accessed 14 September 2006.
- "Survived by his wife" on YouTube