Red's dead

Veteran Borscht Belt comic dies at 87

Veteran Catskills comedian turned actor Red Buttons had died at the age of 87.

He died at his Los Angeles home after a  long battle with vascular disease.

Born Aaron Chwatt, Buttons earned his nickname because of his ginger hair when he was working as a singing bellhop in New York, wearing a uniform festooned with buttons.

He built up a song-and-comedy act in the city’s nightclubs and the Jewish resorts of the so-called Borscht Belt in the Thirties and Forties.

He had an early TV show on CBS, which catapulted him to fame in the three years it ran from 1952. He said the secret to his comedy success was that ‘I’m a little guy, and that’s what I play — a little guy with a little guy’s troubles.’

In later years, his comic talents were mostly employed at Friar’s Roasts, where a parade of friends and colleagues line up to playfully insult the guest of honour. His repeat appearances earned him the nickname King Of The Roasters

That TV exposure led to a movie career, winning a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the 1957 Marlon Brandowar drama. He also had roles in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Poseidon Adventure and The Longest Day as well as several TV series. His last role was as Jules "Ruby" Rubadoux on ER.

Simpsons star Harry Shearer, who saw Buttons perform about two years ago, pad tribute.

He wrote on his blog: 'Buttons was razor sharp, fresh, unpredictable, with the delivery of a master. Having had the privilege of seeing him so recently, I just wanted to note that his mastery remained undimmed.'

New York comic Andrew J Lederer added: 'As a stand-up, he was extraordinary.  He worked like a kid into his eighties, carrying a pad and writing jokes that were contemporary and delivered with a verve and style that didn't require such good material - it would have covered up any deficiencies that were there. He was not a fogey, but comedically present-tense over several generations. I hope our generation can breed guys like that. '

Buttons is survived by his two children, Amy and Adam, and a sister.


Published: 14 Jul 2006

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