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The Red Skelton Show started on NBC in 1951. Skelton switched to Tuesday nights on CBS in 1953 – consistently placing amongst the Top 10 shows – but returned to NBC in 1970 for his swansong.
Hilarious, sad, comic, clown, buffoon, monologist, mime, actor, tragedian, Richard Bernard Skelton – son of a circus clown – could do it all, and the world’s greatest entertainers were his guests.
Week after week, with good material and bad, Skelton made audiences laugh, often when he was physically and emotionally in shreds himself.
In 1958, at the height of his popularity, Red’s son, Richard, died of leukaemia, aged just 9.
But Skelton carried on making faces for the camera, playing con-man politician San Fernando Red, mute hobo Freddie the Freeloader, befuddled rustic Clem Kadiddlehopper, punch-drunk boxer Cauliflower McPugg, the Mean Widdle Kid (who left chaos wherever he went and whose favourite expression was “I dood it!”), Sheriff Deadeye (the scourge of the West), drunken Willie Lump-Lump, Bolivar Shagnasty and other impossibly funny characters on his show.
In 1971, after 20 years of a weekly series, the old redhead was cancelled. His closing line, as always, was a sincere “God bless”.
Skelton continued to perform live, doing 75 or more shows a year later in his career. He died in September 1997 at the age of 84.