Comedian Louie Anderson died Friday in Las Vegas of complications from cancer, according to a representative. He was 68.
Anderson, a longtime stand-up comic who won an Emmy in 2016 for playing the mother of Zach Galifianakis’ twin characters in FX’s “Baskets,” had worked on-screen since the 1980s. One of his most memorable film appearances was in 1988’s “Coming to America” as the longtime McDowell’s employee Maurice, a role he reprised in the movie’s sequel, released last year.
While promoting “Coming 2 America” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall said the studio pressured them to cast a white actor in the original film and gave them three options.”(The studio was) like, ‘There has to be a white person in the movie,’ ” Murphy said. “I was like, ‘What?’ So who was the funniest white guy around? … So that’s how Louie got in the movie.”
In 1994, Anderson, who would also go on to host the game show “Family Feud” for three years, co-created the animated sitcom “Life With Louie,” based on his experience growing up in Minnesota with 10 siblings (though the show itself takes place in Wisconsin). He voiced the fictional Louie, as well as other members of his family. The series lasted three seasons and won two Daytime Emmys.
“Life With Louie” contributed to Anderson landing his role in “Baskets,” according to a 2016 Vanity Fair interview that also said series co-creators Galifianakis and Louis C.K. were sold by an impression Anderson did in a stand-up routine of his own mother. But rather than lean into what he described as a “cartoonish” approach to playing someone of another gender, Anderson used his own voice while playing Christine Baskets.
“I think that’s what gives this something, some reality,” Anderson said, adding that “it seemed like I was made to play this part.”
In a statement issued after Anderson’s death, FX described Christine as “a risky role for him” and noted that he “embraced it with a fearlessness and joy that demonstrated his brilliance as an artist.”
“He truly cared about his craft and was a true professional in every sense,” the network continued. “Our hearts go out to his loved ones and his ‘Baskets’ family — Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel and Martha Kelly and all the cast and crew. He will be missed by us all but never forgotten and always bring a smile to our faces.”
Anderson told Vanity Fair that Christine was “a version of my mom, but a combination of my five sisters and my sister-in-laws.” His mother figured into much of his work — whether literally, such as with his 2018 book “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too,” or with the lessons she imparted.
Last year, for the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Anderson recalled to Vulture how she inspired him to be “thoughtful and comforting” to the audience that came to see him perform in Las Vegas soon after the tragedy.
“I’m a descendant of people pleasers, caregivers, and comforters,” he said. “I used my mom’s adage: ‘Be nice to people, Louie. You never know what kind of day they’ve had before they’ve seen you.’ But I did know what kind of day we all had. We had to go on and not let anything or anyone stop us from living.”
Many of the early social media tributes to Anderson made note of his kindness. Comedian Travon Free, who described Anderson as “a very dear friend,” noted that the longtime comic would often “put me and a couple of other comics he loved up in a hotel in Vegas and pay us to open for him when we needed money.” Actor Henry Winkler tweeted that Anderson’s “generosity of spirit will cover the world from above.”
“We are so lucky you were on earth for a moment, spreading your humor all over like bars of living gold,” Winkler wrote.
Sharing a photo of himself alongside Anderson and Bob Saget, who died earlier this month, comedian Gilbert Gottfried wrote, “This photo is very sad now … Both good friends that will be missed.”