Soupy Sales, the boundary-breaking comedian who good-naturedly endured, by his count, more than 20,000 pies to the face, has died. He was 83.
The comic's anything-for-a-laugh pie-throwing shtick became his trademark, and stars including Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Shirley MacLaine took one in the face on the comedian's television show in the early 1960s.
His nerdy cool paved the way for such later comedians as Pee Wee Herman and Andy Kauffman. Intentionally or not, Kauffman's famous Mighty Mouse routine plays like an ironic homage to Sales' own lip-synced performance of his hit "The Mouse." His humor sometimes sprung from his supposed surprise at recognizing, for the first time, a joke's corniness.
Sales died Thursday night at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, New York, according to The Associated Press. His former manager and longtime friend, Dave Usher said Sales suffered from many health problems and entered the hospice last week.
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Milton Supman was born on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, N.C. His family was the only Jewish one in town, and owned a dry-goods store that sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan, the AP reported. The family later moved to Huntington, W.Va.
Sales became a $20-a-week reporter at a West Virginia radio station after returning from the Navy after World War II and changed his name to Soupy Heinz after taking on a DJ gig and heading to Ohio.
He took his first pie to the face in 1951 while hosting a children's show in Cleveland. Sales' show in Detroit earned national recognition for his act, which included sketches, gags and intentionally bad puns.
Sales' greatest success came after the 1964 debut of The Soupy Sales Show in New York, which was geared toward children but attracted adults with a mix of spontaneity and self-awareness. Sales was once breifly suspended after telling his young audience to empty their parents' wallets and purses and mail him all the pieces of green paper bearing pictures of presidents.
By the time Sales' New York run ended two years later, he had appeared in 5,370 live television programs and released a pair of albums that made the Billboard Top 10 in 1965.
Sales continued to appear on television from 1968-75 on the game show What's My Line? and later guest-starred on shows including The Mike Douglas Show and The Love Boat. Sales also appeared as himself in the 1998 Eddie Murphy film Holy Man.
Sales is survived by his wife, Trudy, and two sons, musicians Hunt and Tony, who backed David Bowie in the band Tin Machine.