Tony Mendez, best known as the "Cue Card Boy" on Late Show With David Letterman, has died. Mendez's former companion, Andrew Corbin, confirmed to The New York Times that Mendez passed away at his Miami Beach home on Thursday, July 29. He was 76. At this time, a cause of death has not been released, and Corbin told the Times that he did not know the cause.
Born in Havana, Cuba, on March 27, 1945, Mendez, along with his father, who worked in the law department of the University of Havana, and his mother, Josefina, left Cuba by airplane in 1961. After the family settled in Cuba and his mother became a Spanish teacher at UCLA, Mendez became acquainted with Barney McNulty, who was the first person to use cue cards on TV and came to be known as "the cue-card king," according to The New Yorker. McNulty helped Mendez get a start at handling cue cards for soap operas before he helped move him up to the variety shows. In the mid-sixties, Mendez flipped cue cards for everyone from Dean Martin to Milton Berle to Jimmy Durante. By the '90s, and after a 15-year stint as a Broadway dancer with roles in Pippin, Irene, and Dancin', Mendez was flipping cue cards for Letterman. He told The New Yorker he got the role after his partner, Marty Zone, who did the cue cards for Letterman, contracted AIDS. When Zone became too sick to work, Mendez took over his job.
Tony Mendez, who was in charge of cue cards for “Late Show With David Letterman,” and who was one of the show’s breakout oddball characters before getting fired in 2014, has died at 76. https://t.co/WYKmjcFSFw— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 21, 2021
Mendez first began flipping cue cards for Letterman periodically on his NBC show Late Night With David Letterman, taking over the role full-time when the host moved to CBS in 1993. During his 21-year Late Show tenure in the role, Mendez became dubbed "cue card boy" by Letterman. He also became a regular onscreen presence, joining the show's troupe of non-stars, which also included Letterman's mother, Dorothy Mengering, the stage manager Biff Henderson, and Mujibur and Sirajul, salesmen at a souvenir shop near the Ed Sullivan Theater.
"The flipping of the cards is very important," Mendez said of the job. "If you flip too fast, they can't see the last line. If you're too slow, you slow them down. You can't bump into the camera or cast a shadow. And I'm only five feet away from Dave, so I've got to have that energy."
However, Mendez's time on Late Show came to an end in 2014 after he physically assaulted Bill Scheft, one of Letterman's writers. According to a New York Post report at the time, the incident occurred on Oct. 9 of that year just before a Thursday taping and was triggered by a verbal dispute the day before over a cue card change. On Oct. 9, Mendez grabbed Scheft by the shirt and shoved him against a wall. Mendez was immediately removed from the theater and later "officially terminated."
Along with flipping cue cards for the Late Show With David Letterman, Mendez also flipped cue cards for The Lucy Show, starring Lucille Ball, as well as Saturday Night Live, where he stayed for nine years beginning in 1984. Mendez also hosted a popular series of online videos called The Tony Mendez Show for the Late Show website.