Gallagher, who became one of the most recognizable comedians of the 1980s for an outrageous act that always concluded with him smashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer, died Friday at his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 76.

His death was confirmed by his longtime former manager, Craig Marquardo, who said the cause was organ failure after “numerous heart attacks” over the course of Gallagher’s life.

The self-proclaimed “Wizard of Odd,” Gallagher — his first name was Leo, although for many years he refused to reveal it — said his job was to “yell at the world.” To the thousands of his front-row fans who were honored, or at least not visibly offended, by being splattered with cantaloupes, cottage cheese and all manner of other groceries, Gallagher offered himself as an exuberant release from life’s strains.

In a 1984 interview with The Miami Herald, he spoke of people’s worries about money, family and responsibilities. “If you make fun of it, the people laugh,” he said. “They release the tension and are somehow healed — a bit.”

In addition to reaching the rarefied position of going by just one name like Cher or Madonna, Gallagher was the star of more than a dozen one-man specials on Showtime and a series of Budweiser commercials, including one in which he used a watermelon as a bowling ball. He played more than 100 concert dates a year for more than 30 years, obliterating more than 15,000 melons.

Adorned with a mustache, shoulder-length hair and, for much of his career, a cap or beret, he wrote his own jokes and traveled with 15 footlockers of props, among them a “handgun” that fired plastic hands.


In 1987, United Press International reported that researchers at Loma Linda University in Southern California studying laughter took blood samples from 10 medical students while they watched Gallagher in action. Not only did they laugh uproariously; their white blood cells increased. The comedian, the scientists said, appeared to have boosted the subjects’ immune systems.

Gallagher named his celebrated sledgehammer the Sledge-O-Matic, a play on the Veg-O-Matic, the gadget for slicing and dicing fruits and vegetables in one stroke that was ballyhooed in countless television commercials in the 1960s and ’70s. His message: “Why don’t you hit it with a hammer if you want it in little pieces?”

Much of Gallagher’s humor was based on wordplay. ( “I don’t know why they say you have a baby. The baby has you.” “If pro is the opposite of con, is progress the opposite of Congress?”) But he also prided himself on being outrageous and even offensive, defying political correctness. (Deaf people, he said, should be required to live near airports.) Many people, especially in his later years, felt his jokes about racial groups, gay people and women crossed a line.

“Look around — see any Mexicans?” he said during one 2010 show. “They’ll be here later for the cleanup.”

In 2011, Gallagher was a guest on his fellow comedian Marc Maron’s podcast but walked out when Maron asked him about this and similar jokes. Some critics agreed that his act had gone too far. But he never toned it down.

In 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis of California was recalled, Gallagher was one of 135 candidates vying to replace him; he ran on the slogan “Finally, a governor you can get drunk with.” Running on a platform demanding, among other things, that the state dispatch big helicopters to immediately lift vehicles from accident sites, he finished 16th.


Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on July 24, 1946. He lived in Ohio until he was around 10, when his family moved to Tampa, Florida. His father owned a roller-skating rink, and young Leo, nicknamed Butch, became a regional skating champion. He was expelled on the last day of high school for insubordination, but when a guidance counselor interceded, he was allowed to graduate. He was 29th in a class of 600.

He went on to the University of South Florida, where he majored in English literature and orchestrated a protest against cafeteria food. He parked a trailer with a dozen pigs by the cafeteria’s entrance and urged students to feed the pigs their leftover food. When officials told him that the food must be washed before being fed to the pigs, he said his point was made.

After graduating in 1970, Gallagher worked as a salesperson for a chemical company in Chicago. He was fired after arriving for work dressed as a gangster, carrying a fake Thompson submachine gun.

He then moved back to Tampa, where he drove a cab, bused tables and worked as a carpenter. He became road manager for singer and comedian Jim Stafford, who would have a hit record in 1974 with “Spiders and Snakes.” Gallagher soon started performing comedy himself.

His rise to fame was slow but steady. In the early 1970s he became a regular at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. He appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1975. Two years later he was featured on the HBO “Young Comedians Special.” His first Showtime special, “Gallagher: An Uncensored Evening,” aired in 1980.

In the early 1990s, when his younger brother Ron lost his job as a bulldozer salesperson, Gallagher helped him out by allowing Ron, who bore some resemblance to him, to perform a facsimile of his act. Ron Gallagher added touches like smashing a lobster with a hammer and was soon performing in small venues.


After a few years, Ron Gallagher began billing himself as Gallagher II (sometimes Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two). Leo Gallagher had not agreed to this billing and was concerned that it was misleading, so in 1999 he sued to stop his brother from performing under that name. The suit, filed in federal court in Michigan, claimed that Ron had “violated Gallagher’s right of publicity and trademark rights.”

An injunction was granted prohibiting Ron Gallagher from performing any act that impersonated his brother. The judge ordered him not to perform with “a sledgehammer or other similar device to pulverize watermelons, fruits, food or other items of any kind,” or to perform in the “beret, striped shirt, long hair and mustache” that were Leo Gallagher’s signature look.

Gallagher was twice divorced. In addition to his brother Ron, his survivors include his son, Barnaby; his daughter, Aimee Gallagher; and two grandchildren. Gallagher announced his retirement from the road after suffering two heart attacks in 2012, but he eventually returned and continued to tour until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. His last televised stand-up performance was on “Gotham Comedy Live” in 2014.

People went to Gallagher performances often carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats in anticipation of being splattered, an experience that fans fondly called “Gallagherizing.” He said a special treat was seeing him whack a Chinese wok filled with eggs and miniature marshmallows.

Gallagher couldn’t help himself. On a sightseeing visit to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 2003, he found a piece of watermelon in a fruit salad. He promptly smashed it on the head of a floor broker.