Multiple outlets confirmed today that comedian Shelley Berman, who rose to fame as a standup in the ‘50s and ‘60s and was part of the Chicago comedy team that later evolved into The Second City, died this morning at his home in California due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his wife 70 years, Sarah. The news was announced on Berman’s official fan page today:
Shelley passed away this morning at 1:24 a.m., at his home in Bell Canyon, CA, due to complications from Alzheimer’s. He was 92 years old. He slipped away peacefully, in his sleep, with no pain, as far as his hospice care workers could tell. Right now, I’m a bit of a wreck, having spent much of the last couple of hours crying, pacing, being unable to concentrate, and, frankly, being conflicted as to how I should feel about all of this. I will have more to say in this group in the days ahead, but Sarah (who I just spoke to) wanted me to let all of Shelley’s Facebook fans know about Shelley’s passing. Sarah loves the fact that Shelley has so many devoted followers on social media. There will be a private service for family and close friends, followed by a public memorial. I will provide details as they are finalized. I’m going to leave it here for now, and I want all of you to please enjoy one of my favorite photos of Shelley, taken in Palm Beach, Florida, in the early ‘60s – a star in his dressing room before showtime! I love you, Shelley.
Berman started his comedy career in Chicago, where he became a member of the Compass Players alongside Mike Nichols and Elaine May; the group would later evolve into Chicago’s famed Second City theater. It was during his early days in Chicago that Berman developed his signature act, in which he would perform one-sided phone conversations while seated in front of the audience. Berman also has the distinction of recording the first comedy album to go gold as well as the first non-musical recording to win a Grammy with his live 1959 album Inside Shelley Berman:
Berman went on to record more albums like Outside Shelley Berman (1959), The Edge of Shelley Berman (1960), A Personal Appearance (1961), and Let Me Tell You a Funny Story (1968). While his career stalled after a 1963 appearance on an NBC TV documentary called Comedian Backstage (cameras caught Berman in a backstage outburst after his act was interrupted), he still racked up many film and television credits throughout his career including writing sketches for Steve Allen’s Tonight, over 20 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and roles on The Best Man, The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, Mary Tyler Moore, Boston Legal, The Bernie Mac Show, and most recently playing Larry David’s dad on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which earned him an Emmy nomination in 2008.
Berman was 92 years old. Read his obituary at The New York Times here.