Comedian Irwin Corey, known for playing an absent-minded professor in an act that called him the “World’s Foremost Authority,” has died at age 102. He died “peacefully, at home” on Monday according to his son, Richard.
Known for his wordy mockery of intellectuals, messy hair, high tops, string necktie and unique opening line (“However…”), Corey had the praise of Damon Runyon and close friend Lenny Bruce. He spent his 80-year-long career visiting late night talk shows, playing “Oklahoma!” character Ali Hakim in a touring U.S.O. production, performing raucous stand up comedy and perfecting his character, the “professor.”
Corey’s jokes, filled with only the most complex words and high brow humor, mimicked pretentious academics and made jabs at politicians that leaned a little too far right for his comfort.
“When I tried to join the Communist Party, they called me an anarchist,” he told the New York Times in a 2008 interview. His leftist views served his political humor well, but got him blacklisted in the 1950s.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in July, 1914, the centenarian began life as one of six children born to his father and mother, a waiter and dressmaker respectively. Their poverty forced Corey’s mother to put the children into the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The Great Depression saw Corey take odd jobs like button maker, join the Civilian Conservation Corps and become a featherweight Golden Gloves boxing champion.
After debuting his comedy act at the Village Vanguard in 1942, Corey would go on to appear in “Flahooley” on Broadway and at various Playboy clubs. He also performed for Jackie Gleason and other late night hosts in addition to college comedy circuits.
Recently, a documentary titled “Irwin & Fran,” was made about Corey and his wife, Frances Berman Corey, who died in 2011.
Corey is survived by a son, Richard, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren. His daughter, Margaret, died in 1997.