Harry Anderson, the glib-huckster best remembered for his role as the Mel Torme-loving wisecracking Judge Harry Stone on the 1980s NBC sitcom Night Court, was found dead in his home in Asheville, NC, on Monday morning. He was 65 years old. No foul play is suspected by the police and no official cause of death has been released at this time, according to THR.
Born in 1952, in Newport, RI, Anderson took a career as a professional magician and combined it with a kind of slick, sharp wit of a comedian charlatan, and became one of the best known television personalities during the 1980s, first with memorable appearances on Cheers as grifter extraordinaire Harry the Hat. It was from these appearances, coupled with performances of magic acts on late night talk shows that mixed hilarity with the craft’s organic wonderment, that got Anderson the starring role in 1984 in an ensemble cast on Night Court. The show, which ran for nine seasons through 1992, netting Anderson three Emmy nominations, remains one of the more high shelf sitcoms from that era. The NBC sitcom like a mixture between Cheers, Barney Miller, and even Fawlty Towers to some extent, as a motley crew of zany and crazy characters passed through Anderson’s judge’s bench, not mention his co-workers, John Larroquette and Markie Post, among others.
In 1990, the actor played the role of the adult Richie Tozier in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It. He then continued his string on television in 1993 with Dave’s World, playing the real-life scribe humorist Dave Barry. That program ran for four years on CBS to mild success. Barry took to Twitter in the wake of Anderson’s death to note that not only was Anderson extremely talented, but in essence, a “nice guy.” That seemed to be a common thread throughout how Harry Anderson was perceived by friends, colleagues, and most importantly fans, that for all his slickness, his mock manipulation, and carnival barker style he manifested on screen and stage, he was really a nice guy at his core.
Anderson didn’t appear much on TV after Dave’s World and almost became somewhat of an enigma to the public post his successful days on the small screen, instead focusing on his magic, something that was evidently intrinsic to him, more than acting, and it was something he kept up full aplomb to his final days.
He will be missed by many fans who grew up with him on Cheers and Night Court as well as many of his peers both in the Hollywood industry and the magic industry. And while he may have been out of the public eye for awhile, he certainly wasn’t out of the consciousness, especially now in the wake of his death, with the almost certain guarantee that retro TV networks like Me-TV and Antenna TV will run Night Court marathons in tribute to Anderson and his wonderful craft.
In short, the genius style of Harry Anderson’s magical comedy was exactly that, something that made us laugh, while amazing us simultaneously in the most dazzling of ways.
RIP Harry Anderson
October 14, 1952 – April 16, 2018