Comedian Gallagher, best known for his watermelon-smashing comedy routine and many popular specials in the 1980s, died Friday morning, according his manager Craig Marquardo. He was 76.
According to a statement provided to CNN by Marquardo, the comedian died “after a short health battle” and “passed away surrounded by his family in Palm Springs, California.”
Gallagher, born Leo Gallagher, became a household name in the early ’80s with a comedy special titled “An Uncensored Evening,” the first comedy stand up special ever to air on cable television, according to an obituary shared by Marquardo.
Gallagher’s most famous bit involved a hand-made sledgehammer he called the “Sledge-O-Matic,” which he would use to smash food on stage, spraying the audience.
“That was something else he liked to claim credit for, which was physically engaging the audience in that manner,” the obituary said.
Gallagher, a Fort Bragg, North Carolina native, earned a chemical engineering degree from the University of South Florida before moving to Los Angeles and developing his comedy act at legendary venue The Comedy Store, located on the Sunset Strip, according to his biography on the website for Selak Entertainment, a booking agency.
People began to take notice in 1975 when he performed his brand of prop comedy on Johnny Carson’s famed “The Tonight Show.”
TV was good to him and in 1978, he made an appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” and the next year appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show.”
But it was his Showtime 1980s comedy specials that firmly cemented him in pop culture, and he would go on to do more than a dozen for the network over 27 years.
He was also an early staple of MTV and Comedy Central.
“While his counterparts went on to do sitcoms, host talk shows and star in movies, Gallagher stayed on the road touring America for decades,” the obituary said. “He was pretty sure he held a record for the most stand up dates, by attrition alone.”
Gallagher toured steadily until the Covid-19 pandemic hit and used the break to spend time with his son, Barnaby, and daughter Aimee, the latter of whom had appeared with him on his specials when she was a child.