Comic and roastmaster Alan King dies. The cranky standup, whose career spanned six decades and countless TV appearances, was 76

By Gary Susman
Updated May 10, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Alan King, one of the last and most successful comics of the Borscht Belt-bred old school, died Sunday morning at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Times reports, Seldom seen without a cigar, King died at 76 of lung cancer, said Jeanette King, his wife of 57 years. His death ended a career that spanned six decades and several media, including radio, TV, film, Broadway, and books.

Born Irwin Alan Kniberg in Brooklyn, King was a protégé of Milton Berle, emulating Berle’s cigar-puffing, tailored-suited urbanity but not his zany self-mockery. Rather, King became successful as one of the earliest observational comics, building his routine around his complaints about middle-class married life in the suburbs. In the 1960s, he was a staple in America’s living rooms, appearing on Ed Sullivan’s show 56 times (a record for an individual performer, King claimed) and guest-hosting ”The Tonight Show” numerous times as well. In more recent years, he hosted ”Inside the Comedy Mind,” an interview show with other comics, on Comedy Central. He also had roles in some 20 movies, including ”Memories of Me” (which he also produced), ”Night and the City,” and ”Casino,” often playing dramatic character parts such as rabbis or gangsters.

A member of the Friar’s Club for 59 years until his death, he served as the club’s Abbot, emceeing at countless celebrity roasts. He was an inveterate name-dropper who seemed to have met everybody, including the British royal family. (When Queen Elizabeth II, upon introduction to the comic, said: ”How do you do, Mr. King,” he reportedly replied, ”How do you do, Mrs. Queen?” The queen was not amused, but Prince Philip reportedly laughed.) He told the New York Daily News that the credit that most impressed his grandchildren was his bad-guy role in ”Rush Hour 2.” ”I opened for Sinatra and Judy Garland and hosted the god—- Academy Awards,” he grumbled, ”but it turns out the only reason I am now considered cool, at my god—- age, is because I have now worked with Jackie Chan.”