Tommy Cooper Drops Dead
April 15, 1984 - It was on this day during a live television broadcast that comedian Tommy Cooper dropped dead on stage. Cooper collapsed against the curtain and slumped forward as if he was drunk. The audience thought it was part of the act so they laughed along. In reality, the comedian had suffered a fatal heart attack.
As a little boy, Tommy Cooper dreamed of becoming a magician. His first paid performance came at age 16 aboard a boat. Cooper was terribly nervous and the act was a dismal failure. The crowd laughed him off the stage. In hindsight Cooper realized that there was great comic potential in bad magic.
Cooper had plenty of comic gifts. He had excellent timing and an odd physical presence that seemed to exude comedy. He always wore a red fez and sometimes all he had to do was walk out onto a stage and the crowd would erupt with laughter.
He loved to make plays on words, and he always delivered them in a dry, unflappable style:
A man walks into a greengrocer's and says, I want five pounds of potatoes please. And the greengrocer says, we only sell kilos. So the man says, alright then, I'll have five pounds of kilos.
Despite his funny stage persona, Cooper had a notorious temper. He was also incredibly stingy. One trick he was fond of pulling was to exit a taxi cab and slip something into the driver's pocket. Cooper would say, "have a drink on me," and when the cabbie looked in his pocket he'd inevitably find a tea bag.
Cooper battled multiple health problems for most of his life. He drank heavily and smoked incessantly. It wasn't unusual for him to plow through 40 cigars a day.
Millions of viewers watched him die, and this surely has added to his legendary status. In a 2005 survey of comedians, Tommy Cooper came in at #6 on the list of all time greatest acts.