Rip Taylor, Flamboyant '$1.98 Beauty Show' Host, Dead at 84
Rip Taylor, whose outrageous personality made him a memorable comic and disarming TV presence for decades, died Sunday in Beverly Hills. He was 84.
His publicist and close friend B Harlan Ball reported Taylor's passing on Facebook, writing, "At 2:00 p.m. today I received the call that my dear friend and client The Prince of Pandemonium, The Master of Mayhem, The Crying Comedian, The King of Camp and Confetti, Star of Screen (big & little), Vegas and Broadway Stage, Rip Taylor, has passed. There are far too many stores I could share about tho sman who kept me laughing for the last couple decades personally. He will be missed so much more than can be verbalized."
Born January 13, 1935, in Washington, D.C., Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. honed his comedy craft while serving his country in the Korean War. His broad shtick, with its roots in the vaudeville era, proved popular on TV, landing him repeat appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show." It was during this phase that he earned the title "the Crying Comedian," based on his bit of feigning tears while begging his audiences to laugh.
Confetti would become his calling card, as would jokes about his hiding-in-plain-sight toup.
He worked countless stage gigs, including touring with Judy Garland in 1966 and replacing Mickey Rooney in "Sugar Babies" on Broadway (1981). On the big screen, he appeared in such movies as the raunchy "Chatterbox!" (1977) and "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington" (1977), as himself in "Things Are Tough All Over" (1982), "Wayne's World 2" (1993), and all three "Jackass" movies (2002, 2006, 2010), and as the Demi Moore character's boss in the blockbuster "Indecent Proposal" (1993).
Still, he was a creature of TV. In fact, one of his signature performances was as a creature — he was Sheldon the Sea Genie on the Sid & Marty Krofft Saturday morning TV show "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" (1973-1974).
For all his diverse work, which included stints as a voice act and game show panelist, Taylor is probably most immediately recalled as the breathless host of the short-lived, intentionally awful "The $1.98 Beauty Show," on which offbeat contestants endured embarrassing challenges in their efforts to win less than two bucks. It was promoted as "the world's tackiest TV show."
In 2010, Taylor toured with a one-man show called "It Ain't All Confetti," in which he came out as a childhood sexual abuse survivor and tackled the subject of bullying.
Taylor was also the focus of an unreleased documentary entitled "Rip Rip Hooray!" (2016).
A long-running gag of Taylor's was frustration over being confused with actor Rip Torn. When Torn died this year, Taylor quipped on Facebook, "...and I didn't rob any banks either!" as a reference to Torn's latter-day run-ins with the law.
In 2016, he had poked fun at his advanced age, writing, "I received a call today from God. He said, 'At least meet me half way!'"
As unapologetically camp as his friend Liberace, Taylor objected to being characterized as gay — or at least as openly gay. While telling an interviewer in 2010 that he was once (briefly) married to a showgirl, he said, "Put your eyebrows down."
He is survived by his longtime partner, Robert Fortney. Donations may be made to the Thalians, a charitable organization co-founded by his dear friend Debbie Reynolds.