On This Day: Comedy Legend Jackie Gleason Dies in 1987

by Joe Rutland
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Jackie Gleason, who made his mark on television with “The Honeymooners,” died on this day at his home in Lauderhill, Fla.

Gleason, known as “The Great One” throughout his career, died from cancer at 71 years old on June 24, 1987. It’s probably hard to believe Gleason, a poor kid from the New York City borough of Brooklyn, could become one of CBS’s biggest stars.

Believe it when we say Jackie Gleason was big. His weight always was an issue, despite him saying it wasn’t a lot in his life. Gleason signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Buick for two seasons of “The Honeymooners.” In 1955, that was unheard of money. But the network loved Gleason’s work on his own variety show, which scored big numbers for it.

Jackie Gleason Played Host Of Characters Through TV Career

Yet Gleason, who played Kramden along with Audrey Meadows as wife Alice, Art Carney as upstairs neighbor Ed Norton, and Joyce Randolph as Norton’s wife Trixie, would just do one season. The sketch had been a staple of “The Jackie Gleason Show” variety show, even starting when Gleason was the host of the old DuMont Network’s “Cavalcade of Stars.”

Kramden was one of many characters in the Jackie Gleason repertoire of comedy. There was playboy Reginald Van Gleason III, Rudy the Repairman, Fenwick Babbitt, The Poor Soul, Joe the Bartender, and many others.

Instagram account DoYouRemember shared this picture of Gleason when he hosted a talk show for a bit.

Now, this photo might have come from the time Jackie Gleason apologized on television for hosting a game show called “You’re In The Picture.” Gleason did that show for one week and the ratings were so bad that, as the story goes, he told CBS executives that he was going to apologize. They didn’t want it to happen. Guess who won that battle? Jackie Gleason.

Gleason Also Made Mark With Records, Playing Sheriff Buford T. Justice

Besides being a TV star, Gleason produced some of the biggest-selling “mood music” albums for Capitol Records. Here’s the kicker for you: Jackie Gleason could not read music at all. But he’d come up with a melody, hum it, and get musicians to figure out what notes fit.

Lest we forget this look back at the career of one Herbert John Gleason without mentioning movies. Did you know that he went out to Hollywood and worked as a character actor? He made a few film appearances but never hit it big. Then Gleason returns to New York and this at-the-time new phenomenon known as television.

A lot of people will know Gleason from his role as Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit” alongside his friend, Burt Reynolds. They were friends in real life and Reynolds actually suggested Gleason for the sheriff’s role. It was quite different from anything else Jackie Gleason had done in his career, but there are moments when glimpses of Kramden appear on the big screen.

People will never forget Jackie Gleason or his contributions to the entertainment industry.

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