Joe Flaherty: Comedian and actor of SCTV & Freaks and Geeks dies aged 82 after 'brief illness'

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Actor and comedian Joe Flaherty has died aged 82

Comedian and actor Joe Flaherty, best known for his work on the sketch show SCTV and Freaks and Geeks has died aged 82. Flaherty’s daughter, Gudrun, confirmed his death in a statement shared with the New York Times. No exact cause was given, but said her father died on Monday (April 1), after “a brief illness.”

She said: “Since then, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this immense loss. Dad was an extraordinary man, known for his boundless heart and an unwavering passion for movies from the ’40s and ’50s. His insights into the golden age of cinema didn’t just shape his professional life; they were also a source of endless fascination for me. In these last few months, as he faced his health challenges, we had the precious opportunity to watch many of those classic movies together — moments I will forever hold dear.”

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In February, Martin Short, a former colleague of Flaherty from SCTV, posted a message expressing concern about Flaherty's declining health, saying that he was gravely ill and conscious of his condition. Short appealed to fans for donations to assist with Flaherty's care expenses, hoping to enable him to spend his remaining time at home rather than in a medical facility.

He said at the time: "We are writing to our friends because we believe SCTV meant something to you, and that would not be the case if it were not for Joe Flaherty. He was a mentor, a director, and an inspiring improviser who gave us many of the tools we are still using in the careers he helped kickstart. And he made us all laugh!”

Flaherty was part of the original SCTV cast and remained on the show throughout its six-season run as both a writer and performer. The performers all came from the Toronto branch of the Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, and many went on to be future stars, including Short, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, and Harold Ramis.

Actor and comedian Joe Flaherty has died aged 82 (Amazon media)Actor and comedian Joe Flaherty has died aged 82 (Amazon media)
Actor and comedian Joe Flaherty has died aged 82 (Amazon media) | Amazon media

During his time on the show, Flaherty minted numerous classic characters who populated the airwaves of the fictional SCTV station, around which the show was based. He played news anchor Floyd Robertson, the respectable, well-paid (albeit alcoholic) straight man to Levy’s dimwitted Earl Camembert; and Robertson even had his own character of a kind, Count Floyd, host of a late-night movie program who dressed like a vampire, howled like a werewolf, and showed not-scary movies he had never seen. Flaherty and Candy also teamed up for the “Farm Film Report” as Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, two hicks with a penchant for blowing up the celebrities they interview. He portrayed Guy Caballero, the sleazy, penny-pinching owner of SCTV, who could walk but used a wheelchair to garner undeserved sympathy. Flaherty was enlisted to give the acceptance speech when the show won its first of two Emmys, Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program, in 1982. That led to a famous moment where, after cracking a joke about the size of the crowd on stage and eliciting a sardonic “That’s funny” from presenter Milton Berle, Flaherty quickly retorted, “Sorry, Uncle Miltie… go to sleep” — a parody of Berle’s old Texaco Star Theater sign-off, “Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed.”

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After SCTV, Flaherty worked regularly as a reliable comic character actor. He was cast on Levy’s sitcom, Maniac Mansion, which ran on Canadian TV for three seasons in the early 90s. He picked up guest roles on shows like Married… with Children, Ellen, and Dinosaurs. In 1989, he had a small but memorable part as the Western Union Man at the end of Back to the Future Part II, while in 1996, he played the crazed “fan” in Happy Gilmore who tries to throw off Adam Sandler’s golf swing and, when that doesn’t work, runs him over with his car. Outside SCTV, Flaherty was probably best known for his turn on Freaks and Geeks as Harold Weir, father of Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam (John Francis Daley). Harold was an easy favorite supporting character on the show — his cantankerous, stern attitude was often undercut by his genuine Midwest kindness and outlandish stories about “friends” who met gruesome deaths because they misbehaved. In Vanity Fair’s oral history of Freaks and Geeks, Daley and Jason Segel spoke about looking up to and learning from Flaherty on the series. They said that there was something about Freaks and Geeks that was reminiscent of SCTV — a piece of television brilliance that just wasn’t catching on in the ratings. After Freaks and Geeks, Flaherty continued to act and do voice-over work, appearing on shows like Frasier, Family Guy, and The King of Queens.

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