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Comic Bill Skiles dies at 79

Part of Skiles and Henderson comedy team

Bill Skiles, one half of the comedy team of Skiles and Henderson, died Monday, May 16, of kidney cancer in St. Cloud, Fla. He was 79.

Skiles and Henderson were together for more than 50 years, performing their first shows at Disneyland in 1958. Skiles was the clown and Henderson the straight man.

The pair met in 1953, after Skiles’ tour of duty in the Air Force. Skiles was part of vocal quartet the Jolly Rogers for a year, performing in Las Vegas.

Their act at Disneyland included zany homemade musical instruments.

In the early ’60s the pair joined a folk ensemble, the New Christy Minstrels; a portion of each show was devoted to their comedy, but they eventually exited the group. They also saw some of their first TV exposure on shows including “The Red Skelton Show” and “Bell Telephone Hour.”

They recurred on “Dean Martin’s Golddiggers” in 1968, appeared on “Playboy After Dark” in 1969 and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The David Frost Show” in 1970. Also in 1970, they toured with Rowan and Martin and Lily Tomlin.

Soon Skiles and Henderson became the opening act for a number of performers in Las Vegas, including Andy Williams, Loretta Lynn and Roger Miller.

In 1972 the pair began a five-year gig touring with the Carpenters. They appeared on two episodes of “The Tonight Show” during the mid-’70s and later guested on “The Hollywood Squares.”

By the mid-’90s they were doing stints in Branson, Mo., and Skiles and Henderson did their last tour in March 2010.

Skiles is survived by his wife, Arlene, a former singer, and four children and several grandchildren.

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