Comedian, TV game show guest Nipsey Russell dies
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Nipsey Russell, the first black
comedian to regularly appear on U.S. network television game
shows, has died of cancer two weeks before his 81st birthday,
his manager said on Tuesday.
Dubbed “the poet laureate of TV” for the quick-witted poems
he would recite, Russell died in a New York hospital on Sunday,
Joseph Rapp said.
Russell got his start after World War Two as the master of
ceremonies at the Baby Grand club in Harlem. He built a
following and became known to the mainstream white show
business world, Rapp said.
Russell had a featured role in the popular 1961 TV sitcom
“Car 54, Where are You?”
In 1963, near the height of the U.S. civil rights era, he
became the first black performer to appear as a regular guest
on a television game show, “Missing Links,” hosted by Ed
McMahon, Rapp said.
It was McMahon who dubbed him “poet laureate” because of
the poems, some of which were playfully political, that he
would recite at the close of the show.
“He was not as heavy-handed as the others that were coming
up,” Rapp said. “In those years, it was very hard for a black
comedian to be that political.”
Russell later was a frequent guest on other game shows,
such as the “$10,000 Pyramid,” and “The Match Game,” and hosted
his own game show “Your Number’s Up.”
He appeared in such films as “Posse,” with Mario Van
Peebles and “Wildcats,” with Goldie Hawn.
Born in Atlanta, Russell graduated from high school at age
16, majored in English and European history at the University
of Cincinnati and spoke four languages, Rapp said.