Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Charles Nelson Reilly

Charles Nelson Reilly was an American actor, comedian, director and drama teacher known for his comedic roles in movies, children's television, animated cartoons, and as a panelist on the game show Match Game.

Reilly was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Charles Joseph Reilly, an Irish Catholic commercial artist, and Signe Elvera Nelson, a Swedish Lutheran. At age 13, he escaped the Hartford Circus Fire where over a hundred people died, and as a result, he never sat in an audience again through the remainder of his life.

Reilly made his first motion-picture appearance in 1957, playing an uncredited role in A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan. Most of his work during this period was on the stage. While he kept active in Broadway shows, Reilly would soon become better known for his TV work. Reilly appeared regularly on television in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a regular on The Dean Martin Show, and had multiple guest appearances on television series including McMillan and Wife; Here's Lucy; Laugh In; The Love Boat; and Love, American Style.

During this time, Reilly was perhaps best known as a fixture of game shows, primarily due to his appearances as a regular panelist on the television game show Match Game. Reilly was the longest-running guest, and often engaged in petty, hilarious arguments with fellow regular Brett Somers (the two generally sat next to each other on the show, Somers in the upper middle seat and Reilly in the upper right-hand seat). Reilly typically offered sardonic commentary and peppered his answers with homosexually themed double entendres that pushed the boundaries of 1970s television standards.

The final years of Reilly's life were primarily spent touring the country directing theater and opera, and offering audiences a glimpse into his background and personal life with a critically acclaimed one-man play chronicling his life called Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. In 2004 his final performance of the play was filmed as the basis for an autobiographical independent film titled The Life of Reilly

Reilly was ill with respiratory problems during the filming of "The Life of Reilly" and retired from directing and performing immediately preceding the final day of shooting.

"The Life of Reilly" was premiered in March 2006 at the South by Southwest film festival and Reilly's performance in the film received great acclaim. Reilly canceled his personal appearance at South by Southwest due to illness and by the time the film premiered he had been hospitalized.

On May 25, 2007, Reilly died at his home of complications from pneumonia. He was cremated.

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