No One Will Ever Smash Stuff Quite Like He Did

Comedian Gallagher, famous for destroying watermelons and other items onstage, is dead at 76
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2022 1:04 PM CST

Leo Gallagher, legendary for smashing anything and everything he could with a giant sledgehammer during his comedy performances, has annihilated his last watermelon. Craig Marquardo, longtime manager for the 76-year-old comedian, confirms to TMZ and CNN that he died early Friday in hospice care in Palm Springs, Calif., "surrounded by his family." Gallagher, whose stage name was just his surname, had been stricken with bad health over the years, including multiple heart attacks, and his rep says his death was caused by massive organ failure. Gallagher's son-in-law also confirmed his death to NBC News.

Gallagher—who called himself the "Wizard of Odd" and refused to reveal his first name for many years, per the New York Times—started working the comedy circuit after college, gaining national attention after an appearance in 1975 on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In 1980, his special An Uncensored Evening became the first stand-up comedy special to air on cable TV, Marquardo notes. That program catapulted him to "household name" status, per CNN, mostly thanks to his signature "Sledge-O-Matic" routine, in which he smashed food (most notably watermelons) and other items on stage with a giant handmade sledgehammer.

"That was something else he liked to claim credit for, which was physically engaging the audience," reads an obituary for Gallagher shared with CNN by Marquardo. It was a gimmick that wasn't for everyone, concedes Marquardo, but he tells TMZ that "while Gallagher had his detractors, he was an undeniable talent and an American success story." That success story parlayed itself into comedy specials on MTV and Showtime (more than a dozen on the latter network) and something approaching 3,500 live comedy shows, per his website. The site notes that he was also the "[No. 1] comedian (in ticket sales and ratings) for almost 15 years."

In 2003, Gallagher was one of the 100-plus candidates who ran for governor in California, coming in 16th place with 5,466 votes. He ran as an independent with the slogan, "Finally, a governor you can get drunk with," per the Times. Survivors include a son, a daughter, two grandchildren, and his brother Ron, who would sometimes perform a version of Gallagher's act himself (more here on that and the resulting lawsuit).

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