Buddy Hackett dies at 78. The veteran comic acted in movies from ''The Music Man'' to ''The Little Mermaid''

By Gary Susman
Updated July 01, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Buddy Hackett: Rose Prouser/Reuters/Newscom

Buddy Hackett, the round-faced comedian famous for his dual careers — as a regular in family films, and as a nightclub comic innocently delivering X-rated jokes out of the corner of his mouth — was found dead on Monday at his Malibu home, his son, comedian Sandy Hackett, announced. The 78-year-old performer’s cause of death was yet to be determined, but he had long suffered from diabetes.

Since the 1950s, Hackett had been a fixture as a stand-up comic from the Catskills to Vegas. He also worked in TV from its earliest days (he starred opposite Carol Burnett in the 1956-57 sitcom ”Stanley”) and was a regular on talk shows from the pre-Johnny Carson ”Tonight Show” to Craig Kilborn’s ”Late Late Show” (where, until recently, he had a regular segment, ”Tuesdays with Buddy”). He even appeared in several Broadway plays, making his debut in 1954 with ”Lunatics and Lovers.”

Hackett could have broken into movies as a replacement for ailing Stooge Curly Howard, whose job he was offered in 1946. Instead, he chose to develop his own material, making his screen debut the following year as the voice of a talking camel in ”Slave Girl.” Later, he would find success in such family-friendly films as ”The Music Man” (1962), ”It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963), ”The Love Bug” (1968), and ”The Little Mermaid” (1989), where he again voiced a creature, the seagull Scuttle. The family fare may have been the opposite of his blue nightclub material, but he noted that even his once-daring act was eventually surpassed by much of what played in the multiplex. ”Compared to motion pictures,” he said in 1996, ”I’m very mild these days.”