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Comedian Richard Jeni dies of apparent suicide

March 12, 2007|Adrian G. Uribarri | Times Staff Writer

Richard Jeni, a Los Angeles comedian who played to sold-out crowds at Hollywood's Laugh Factory and appeared frequently on NBC's "Tonight" show, died Saturday in an apparent suicide, police said.

Police found Jeni inside a West Hollywood home Saturday, after responding to a 9:50 a.m. emergency call. The caller, a woman whom officials did not identify, told the operator, "My boyfriend shot himself in the face," Los Angeles police said.

Jeni, whose real name was Richard John Colangelo, died less than an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Los Angeles coroner's office said an autopsy is pending. Jeni's website lists his age as 45, four years younger than coroner's documents show.

Jeni's break into the national comedy circuit came in 1990, when he starred in his first Showtime special, "The Boy From New York City." The show received three CableACE awards, at that time the Emmy Awards' cable-television counterpart. Two years later, Jeni's "Crazy From the Heat" became Showtime's highest-rated stand-up special.

In 1992, the flurry of attention landed Jeni a special on HBO, considered by many in the comedy industry the ultimate comic platform. "Platypus Man" won the CableACE Award for best stand-up special and attracted a sitcom deal with UPN. He went on to host two more HBO specials, the last, "A Big Steaming Pile of Me," in 2005, when he also wrote material for Academy Awards host Chris Rock.

Throughout, Jeni piled up appearances on "The Tonight Show": Johnny Carson invited him for stints as a stand-up performer and panel guest, and when present host Jay Leno took over, Jeni continued a string of repeat visits.

The TV appearances led to a film career that included roles in "The Mask," the raunchy documentary "The Aristocrats" and TV movie National Lampoon's "Dad's Week Off."

In 1993, Jeni earned an American Comedy Award for funniest male stand-up comic. More than a decade later, Comedy Central rated Jeni one of the 60 best stand-up comics.

Frank Kelley, manager of the Irvine Improv, where Jeni was slated to perform in May, called him "a total perfectionist."

"He really had the audience by his hand, the whole time," Kelley said. "I could tell just from listening to the laughter when Jeni was up onstage."

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adrian.uribarri@latimes.com

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