These are turbulent times, in the real world, just as in Springfield, we look to our heroes for inspiration and strength even as they pass on. This week The Simpsons and their neighbors are mourning the loss of two comedy legends, Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis, as well as country western singer Glen Campbell.
Krusty the Clown was crushed to hear about the death of Jerry Lewis, his peer, friend, and rival. There’s no one else in Springfield whose life and career so closely parallels the highs and lows of Lewis. The two met as young clowns, perfecting their acts at Catskills Mountain resorts in NY. When Lewis had a falling out with Dean Martin, Krusty took his spot in the Rat Pack for a spell. Over the years both built empires based on their similar public brands.
Starting in 1966 Lewis helped created the annual Labor Day Telethon to fight Muscular Dystrophy which he hosted for 44 years straight. The charity raised billions of dollars dedicated to finding a way to cure the disease—much more than Krusty’s similar Motion Sickness charity fundraiser. It was one of the many ways Krusty challenged his friend for prominence and public adoration.
Like Krusty, Lewis battled drug addiction and ill health for years, and was irritable and angry towards friends and coworkers. During rehab stays, Jerry and Herschel would talk over the phone for hours, lending a sympathetic ear or arguing viciously about who was the better comic. The mutual competition kept them going.
Krusty will likely cue up a screening of The Bellboy, or the Nutty Professor and chain-smoke his way through them for a chuckle. Maybe he’ll have his secretary Ms. Pennycandy invite Bart and Homer over (along with Professor Frink for some reason) to laugh along with. If Herschel Krustofsky is in a darker mood he might watch Martin Scorsese’s vicious “The King of Comedy” instead, or even his rare bootleg copy of “The Day The Clown Cried”. RIP Jerry Lewis, yet another challenger to the Krusty the Clown crown, who he has outlasted.
Krusty won’t be the only person in town feeling the loss of African American standup comedian Dick Gregory. Gregory got his start performing in the army, then in the early 1960s he became a standout on the Playboy Club circuit, and legendary venues like San Francisco’s Hungry i. It is said that once, at Moe’s Brew Ha Ha! he eviscerated a lesser comic for their hacky joke about the differences in driving styles of white and black persons. Gregory’s talent was a tool that enabled him to step across segregation barriers, and he used that ability to push for equality.
In 1964 he write the story of his early life, “N*gger” which has solid over a million copies, including a couple well-read editions owned by Sideshow Raheem and Lisa Simpson, respectively. It was his first of many books, chronicling the life of a black man in America from a street and stage level perspective. Gregory’s work lives on through a series of stand-up comedy albums. Tonight Raheem, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Krusty, Comic Book Guy will gather together to listen attentively and laugh uproariously at “Dick Gregory Live at the Village Gate” and other albums.
Glen Campbell began his career as a session musician and songwriter in Los Angeles in the 1960s. He performed and wrote for all the stars of the era, Elvis, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys, both Nancy and Frank Sinatra, and Merle Haggard, among many more. Lurleen Lumpkin first heard him perform on reruns of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
Captivated by his stage presence and glitzy pop take on country music, she picked up guitar and taught herself to play his hits, and eventually create her own tunes. The jukebox at the Beer-n-Brawl is still stocked with his catalogue.
Peppy anthems like “Southern Nights” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” brought urban audiences back to country music and kept Campbell popular through the 1970s. While disco ruled most towns, square dancing became trend in Springfield, with Waylon Smithers and his friends becoming lifelong fans thanks to Campbell’s music.
In 2010 Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Rather than giving in to the disease, Campbell spent his time recording a final album and performing as much as he could. Tonight “Ya Hoo” will host a tribute to Glen Campbell, with country stars covering his tunes. Lurleen Lumpkin–inspired by Campbell’s own battles with substance abuse has cleaned up her act for good–and will perform I’ll Never Pass This Way Again to close the show.