Art Cervi, Longtime Bozo the Clown Performer, Dead at 86

Detroit TV icon Art Cervi passed away on Monday at the age of 86, according to a report by The Detroit Free Press. Cervi was beloved for his music show in the 1960s and 1970s, then for hosting a children's show as "Bozo the Clown" in the years that followed. He reportedly died at his home in Novi, Michigan.

Cervi was the talent coordinator for Swingin' Time, a dance show that aired in the Detroit area on Channel 9 in decades past. He was also one of several performers to wear the bulbous red nose and make-up of Bozo the Clown. The character appeared on local children's shows from 1959 to 1980, and Cervi reportedly wore the nose for the longest from 1967 to 1975. He then carried the character with him to another local channel for five more years.

"He seemed like he was having a good time," noted Ed Golick of DetroitKidShow.com. "That wasn't always true with everybody who played the character. Some of these guys looked like they wanted to be anywhere but out in front of the kids. Art enjoyed that."

While Cervi was ubiquitous for Detroiters, The Press guesses that few would have recognized him on the street without his makeup and outfit. However, he reached many of them every day, either as Bozo, through Swingin' Time or, before that, as a radio host.

Cervi was born in Mount Pleasant, New York, and found his way into the entertainment industry in the 1950s as a board operator at WKMH-AM. He was credited with helping to popularize rock 'n' roll among the local youth, and he continued that work for years. Once he transitioned to TV, he was able to book some of the most coveted acts of the era for his broadcasts — such as The Lovin' Spoonful, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Bobby Sherman, Bobby Goldsboro, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.

Local young people would join the performers to dance on screen, and the line of hopefuls typically included about 200 of them. In the end, only 40 or 50 could get on each broadcast, giving Cervi immense power in the local scene.

From there, Cervi went on to become the beloved TV clown, and he was surprisingly passionate about it. In an interview at the time, he reportedly said: "The biggest key to Bozo is that he is a friend. Kids relate to him. In a sense, I am a teacher. I teach love and respect. if that's not educational, I don't know what is."

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Cervi is survived by his wife of 47 years, Suzanne, and four children — Mike, Nick, Jon and Patricia. His cause of death has not been revealed to the public.