It’s hard to imagine what daytime TV would have been like in the 1970s without Charles Nelson Reilly and his distinctive laugh-snort sound and “huh, huh, huh.” Reilly, who died Friday in Los Angeles at 76, per the AP, was everywhere in bits and pieces on TV when I was a kid — livening up the discourse on “Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares,” in repeats of syndication chestnuts like “Ghost & Mrs. Muir” and “Love, American Style,” a pitch man in TV commercials for Bic pens, etc. Reilly was also a mainstay in this era on Carson’s “Tonight Show,” where the later hour allowed him to indulge in even more of his famous double-entendre and no-entendre sex jokes.
Having won a Tony early on in his career for his role in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Reilly would later admit to being frustrated at being consigned by all of those game show and chat show appearances to being “TV’s Charles Nelson Reilly.” But for those of us at home, Reilly was one of those wonderfully familiar faces and voices that makes TV such an intimate medium, or comfort food, if you will. Once you saw Reilly’s horn rims on the screen or his name in the credits, you knew what you were getting, and he never disappointed. He honed a flamboyant but friendly goof ball character that he could take anywhere — game shows, talk-variety shows, sitcoms, lighter dramas, commercials, cartoon voice work, celebrity roasts, and on and on. (Here’s a clip of Charles at work on a seg of Match Game where he and host Gene Rayburn switch places. “I want to be Bob Barker – tall, hard and gorgeous,” Reilly admits after taking possession of the long, skinny mike.)
“The X-Files” played off of that familiarity in casting Reilly as a sleazy sci-fi novel writer looking for alien abduction tales in the memorable 1996 seg “‘Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’.” The Chung character reappeared the following year in an unusually light episode of Chris Carter’s “Files” follow-up, “Millennium.” (The latter guest shot earned Reilly an Emmy nom.)
So thanks for all the comfort and cheap jokes over the years, Charles, and let’s pretend that it’s Gene Rayburn’s voice asking you to fill in the obvious closer to this appreciation: “We’ll miss…blank.”
(Pictured above: Reilly strutting his stuff at the April 2002 wrap party for “The X-Files.”)