Gallagher, Comedian Known for Smashing Watermelons, Dead at 76

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Gallagher, the legendary comedian known for smashing watermelons as part of his hilarious act, has died at the age of 76, as confirmed by his longtime manager. The comedian had suffered ill health for years, enduring numerous heart attacks before dying in hospice care in Palm Springs of massive organ failure.

When it comes to prop comedians, Gallagher and his sledgehammer are hard to beat. His trademark bit, the “Sledge-O-Matic” never failed to leave the audience in stitches. What began as a parody of Veg-O-Matic commercials soon developed into a trademark act and a major part of the beloved funny man’s legacy.

His big break came in 1975 when he appeared on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. The performance was a smash hit, launching his career to new heights. With his unusual on-stage antics, Gallagher became one of the most popular comedians in American history.

Gallagher’s illustrious career spanned more than 40 years, during which he starred in 17 specials, including several hit HBO shows and 13 one-hour specials for Showtime.

His very first comedy special, aptly called An Uncensored Evening, debuted in 1980. From there, he went on to amass an impressive filmography of more than 50 acting credits. Gallagher’s many uproarious appearances include Hollywood Squares, WTF with Marc Maron, Tosh.0, and Celebrity Big Brother.

Sadly, the celebrated comedian found it harder and harder to follow his passions with advancing age and declining health. In 2011, Gallagher collapsed on stage during a performance in Minnesota. Just one year later, he suffered a heart attack mere moments before he took the stage.

Gallagher Fans Mourn the Loss of Legendary Comedian

Those touched by Gallagher’s unique brand of comedy are countless. Some of the biggest names in comedy have performed Gallagher parodies over the years, including Dave Chappelle.

Weird Al Yankovic paid tribute to the comedy legend as well, including him in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. As the film premiered this year, however, Gallagher was played by comedian Paul F. Tompkins rather than the iconic watermelon smasher himself.

Learning of the death of Gallagher, fans around the world took to social media to share their grief. “I’m saddened by the passing of Gallagher,” one fan wrote. “Even before meeting him (guy crashed my wedding) I was a fan of his act. Seeing most of his specials in the early days of Comedy Central. My wife grew up with his daughter and our thoughts are with her and Barnaby [the comedian’s son] today.”

“Carlin was gone years ago. Now Gallagher. All my childhood comedians have died,” added another. “Watermelons are mourning. The Sledge-O-Matic is silent. RIP Gallagher,” said a third.