Legendary comedian Jackie Mason, parlaying his former life as a rabbi into a stand-up comedy career before some Hollywood success, has died. According to the New York Times, Mason's death was confirmed by his lawyer Raoul Felder, passing at an unnamed Manhattan hospital. He was 93.
Mason's comedy was highlighted by his delivery, his thick Yiddish accent and his throwback Catskills "borscht belt" style that may be familiar to fans of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. His one-man shows on Broadway in the 1980s helped to give Mason a larger audience, while his presence and voice is likely more familiar to fans of Mel Brooks and The Simpsons.
Jackie Mason, who kept the borscht belt style of comedy alive and found success with a series of one-man shows on Broadway, died at 93. https://t.co/68S0lTTwbV— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 25, 2021
The New York Times obituary shares a few iconic lines from Mason's act. "I used to be so self-conscious, that when I attended a football game, every time the players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me," one quote reads. It also highlights how Mason couldn't shy away from his Jewish background, using it throughout his career.
"My humor — it's a man in a conversation, pointing things out to you," Mason told the New York Times in 1988. "He's not better than you, he's just another guy. I see life with love — I'm your brother up there — but if I see you make a fool out of yourself, I owe it to you to point that out to you."
Mason's early career kicked off after his father's death in 1959, puttering along until a fateful night in Los Angeles in 1960 when he was recommended to Steve Allen for his television show. Mason was a regular on early TV, was a popular club act and released a pair of albums. But a negative moment between himself and Ed Sullivan during an appearance on the host's show led to a career drop. Sullivan canceled a contract to perform on the show and refused his pay, leaving Mason to sue and win in a later court case. The pair did makeup eventually, but the spat was career poison.
"People started to think I was some kind of sick maniac," Mason said in an interview with Look. "It took 20 years to overcome what happened in that one minute." The New York Times highlights some of Mason's bad luck after the Sullivan incident, including a gunshot aimed into his hotel room after some jokes about Frank Sinatra's age compared to wife Mia Farrow in 1966.
Mason did turn his career around with a string of successful one-man shows. He also had some bit parts in films like The Jerk and Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I. He also played the lead in the questionable sequel to Caddyshack, taking over the Rodney Dangerfield in the last moment.
Most fans will remember him from his role as Krusty the Clown's father, Rabbi Human Krustofski. Mason would play the role from 1991 until 2019, earning an Emmy nomination along the way. He continued working well into the new millennium, most recently making headlines with his support of Donald Trump in 2016.