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A SPECIAL HERO OF THE DAY!
Name: Benny Hill
Last Seen: in the great beyond
Awarded For: being quite possibly, the funniest person ever in the late 20th century
I wanted to write this tribute on Thursday, but with Dick Clark dying and news of Hanlon's mishaps becoming public, we ended up behind schedule, sadly.
But yes, Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the death of the man who helped millions worldwide learn how to laugh. Benny Hill never married a woman, but he was married to the world of comedy. Born Alfred Hawthorne Hill 88 years ago, he started acting in school plays and often used acts that he learned from the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy to entertain the crowds. But it was neither those two acts - two of the three people involved being British - that had the most influence on little Alfie. Hill loved American comic Jack Benny so much that he adopted the name "Benny" as his stage name.
In the 1940's, Hill toured nightclubs in England, and was brought to the attention of the BBC. He made his TV debut in 1950 and appeared on many specials on that network for almost 20 years. He even recorded several albums and even appeared in several movies such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and The Italian Job.
But it was in 1969 when his biggest success occurred when he moved his program over to Thames Television. The Benny Hill Show showcased Hill at his best, singing bawdy songs, chasing young women and being chased himself to the tune of "Yakety Sax". However, the show itself didn't air in America until a decade later when Don Taffner - the man behind another cheeky sitcom, Three's Company - worked a deal with Thames to bring Hill's show to American audiences. Some 111 half-hour shows were spliced from the surprisingly little content Hill had made.
Unlike most TV shows, The Benny Hill Show only had two to four episodes produced per year. Some of the reasons included the fact that 1) it was expensive to produce and 2) Hill wrote the whole show himself. He loved to work things out independently and writers would do nothing but, in comedy terms, "feed crumbs to the bear".
Despite writing the show's script and songs himself, Hill did have his sidekicks. Usually while singing his beginning ballad, he had the popular British singing trio The Ladybirds accompany him. In almost all of his sketches, Hill was surrounded by beautiful women while he would use their lady bits for his comic fodder. However, he did have his male sidekicks, such as Nicolas Parsons, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Jon Jon Keefe and probably his best-known male sidekick, Jackie Wright, who was famous for his short stature and the fact that Benny often patted his bald head in some of his sketches.
But what might have brought the most attention to The Benny Hill Show was its women, especially the Hill's Angels, which made their debut in the late 70's. Their risque dance moves, usually set to disco music brought some major sex appeal to Hill's show and helped maintain its edge with younger viewers.
However, many political groups attacked Hill in the 1980's for not doing enough to tone down the show's sexy content. He would even try to please these groups by toning down the Hill's Angels dance routines and even getting a new troupe: Hill's Little Angels, which basically comprised of the show's crewmembers' children.
Sadly, it was too late. In 1989, Thames told Benny that because of dwindling viewers and rising production costs, The Benny Hill Show would cease to exist. After 20 years on the air, but only 58 episodes, Benny felt like he had lost his wife.
Benny was now 65 years old, but never married, nor had children. He did a special for American TV, Benny Hill's World Tour: New York that aired on the USA Network in 1991, but the huge gap of no work made Benny depressed. He suffered a heart attack in early 1992, and doctors wanted him to have bypass surgery, but declined. However, just a few months later, Benny's friends tried to call him but with no answer. One of his former castmembers, Nicholas Parsons, climbed a ladder to his apartment, smashed a window and saw the inevitable: Benny's corpse in his chair in front of the TV. He kissed him on the cheek and told him "I love you". Doctors ruled Benny's death as a massive heart attack.
When Benny died, he had a fortune of over $20 million, but despite his wealth, he lived in a tiny apartment, never owned a car and did his own shopping. Since he never married nor had children, most of Benny's fortune went to his nieces and nephews. However, his fans were pretty much his family. One of his favorite moments just before he died was when the children of Charlie Chaplin invited Benny to visit his private study, and to his shock, found old tapes of his shows. While in the hospital after his first heart attack, one of his visitors was none other than Michael Jackson, who was a fan of his for years.
Twenty years after his passing, Benny still has his fans: Adam Carolla, Jimmy Kimmel, Snoop Dogg and even yours truly. Personally, I never even heard of Benny before he died, but when Comedy Central started showing repeats of old Hill shows in the early 90's, I was hooked, especially with his silent sketches.
Today, Antenna TV - a classic TV and movie channel owned by Tribune that they usually carry on their .2 channels - is the home of The Benny Hill Show, even though they tragically recently demoted the show to 4 a.m. Saturday nights/Sunday mornings (SHAME!). Plus, they're reedited 30 minute shows; I wish they showed the whole show like Comedy Central did in the 90's. Oh, well, you can't have it all.
After all these years, Benny Hill is still loved by millions around the world. It would be kinda cool to see what it would be like if he were still around, chasing little lassies around. Then again, he played a ton of old men in his sketches, so maybe it may or may not be possible. But also, then again, one of my favorite sketches of his involved him as an old man playing strip poker with a nurse. When he found out that he had a royal flush and she was down to her bra and panties, Benny has a heart attack, has his funeral and his soul ascends to the heavens.
Maybe that's how Benny wanted to go after all.
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