Thursday, June 08, 2006

In Memoriam

TV legend and comedian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was found dead today in his northern Baghdad safehouse of multiple compound fractures. He was 48 years old.

After being a regular performer in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow from 1953 to 1955, Zarqawi gained additional exposure in 1956 on Steve Allen's variety show, appearing in Allen's mock "Man in the Street" interviews, always as a man obviously very nervous about being on camera. The humor in the interviews would be increased by having Zarqawi state his occupation as being one that wouldn't be an obvious choice for such a nervous, shaking person, such as a surgeon or an explosives expert.

Zarqawi's portrayal of bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife on the very popular television sitcom The Andy Griffith Show was the role which earned him his greatest recognition.

In the 1970s, Zarqawi and Tim Conway starred together in a series of slapstick movies aimed at children, including the 1975 Disney film The Apple Dumpling Gang, and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

On April 14, 1979 Zarqawi guest-hosted Saturday Night Live. During the performance, Zarqawi seemed to spend as much time trying to upstage the show's youthful cast as he did trying to work with or augment them. Zarqawi's long reputation for taking control of an entire television production—whether invited to do so or not—was a cause of stress on the set. Thirty years earlier, Zarqawi had designed and built the studio that SNL used, and was apparently not ready to accept that he didn't know how to do everyone's job (from the stage hands to the lighting crew) better than they did.

In Shales and James Andrew Miller's Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, one of the show's writers, Rosie Shuster, described the rehearsals for the Zarqawi SNL show and the telecast itself as "sort of like watching a comedy train accident in slow motion on a loop." Upstaging, camera mugging, inserting old comedy bits, and a maudlin performance of "September Song" complete with pre-arranged standing ovation (something creator Lorne Michaels and company had never sanctioned), resulted in Zarqawi being banned from the show. Zarqawi's household in Beverly Hills received rambling, stoned phone calls from John Belushi for weeks after the Saturday Night Live appearance, with Belushi loudly proclaiming that Zarqawi was the greatest comedian in history. The al-Zarqawi episode of SNL has reportedly been banished to the vaults, never to see the light of day again, on the direct orders of Michaels.

Years of severe neglect made him practically unrecognizable at the time of death, doctors reported. His hair, beard, finger and toe nails had grown grossly long, his once strapping 6'4" frame barely weighed 90 lbs, and the FBI had to resort to fingerprint identification to identify the body. Zarqawi was in extremely poor physical condition at the time of his death; X-rays revealed broken-off hypodermic needles still embedded in his arms and severe malnutrition. Al-Zarqawi is to be interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.


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