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Lovable Loser Image : Jackie Vernon, Stage and TV Comedian, Dies at 63

November 11, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Jackie Vernon, a stage and television comedian whose self-deprecating humor involved telling delighted audiences that "I was so unpopular as a kid, Dale Carnegie once hit me in the mouth," died Tuesday at his Hollywood home.

The deadpan, corpulent comic who played a series of lovable losers on such TV variety programs as "The Dean Martin Show," "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson," "The Garry Moore Show" and "The Merv Griffin Show" was 63 and apparently suffered a heart attack.

Jim Wells, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman, said paramedics were called to Vernon's Hollywood home about noon where he was pronounced dead.

Vernon's routines dealt with the personal affronts that he claimed had plagued him throughout his life: His rocking horse had died (again); his wife could not find her recipe for cold cereal that morning or "I called Dial-a-Prayer and they hung up on me."

He strolled across stages showing imaginary slides, saying "click-click" as he worked a mechanical clicker and then looking down at it and saying, "I think I hurt myself."

His self-image was such that "when I was a kid, I went around on the beach kicking sand in my own face." At parties, "I was such a wallflower, I sat in the closet, memorizing the labels on coats."

Not a little of the pathos was based in reality, for Vernon was hardly an overnight success.

For years, he labored in small clubs and strip joints and was on the verge of quitting show business when Steve Allen, host of the original "Tonight" show, saw him.

He was soon appearing in Las Vegas and elsewhere. He became the voice of Frosty the Snowman in holiday specials, appeared in the 1971 film, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," and recorded several albums, among them "A Wet Bird Never Flies at Night." He had just returned from an engagement at the Marina Hotel in Las Vegas.

David Vernon, the comedian's 25-year-old son, said the entertainer had been in ill health in recent years "but never a heart attack."

His other survivors include his wife, Hazel, two daughters and a stepson.

"He smiled a lot, really, but it was a kind of sad and wistful smile," David Vernon said. "He had a different look at life. He sort of identified himself as a Charlie Chaplin-type of sad clown, a loser who didn't have things work out."

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