Comedian Leo Gallagher, who was known simply by his last name and became famous for smashing watermelons with a mallet on stage, died on Friday morning, according to his family.
He was 76.
Gallagher died from organ failure while in hospice care in his Palm Springs, California, home, his son-in-law told NBC News. He had been unwell and had multiple heart attacks.
Born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1946, Gallagher got his start in the industry as a road manager for musical comic Jim Stafford, Deadline reports. He first appeared on TV on ABC’s “The Jim Stafford Show,” which aired in 1975, according to the outlet.
In 1980, Gallagher’s comedy stand-up special “An Uncensored Evening” was the first to ever air on cable television, according to his longtime former manager, Craig Marquardo.
He rose to fame from his signature sketch, “Sledge-O-Matic,” where he’d take a large, handmade wooden mallet and smash a variety of foods before ending in the main act — a watermelon.
The comedian, who often wore a Tam o’Shanter hat, appeared on many talk shows throughout his career, including David Letterman’s NBC and CBS shows, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Match Game,” “The Hollywood Squares” and Howard Stern’s TV and radio programs, according to Deadline.
In one visit to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1979, Gallagher took aim at fellow guest and comedian Chevy Chase who said his routine was “pretty much set up by machines,” the outlet reported.
“Chevy doesn’t like it if somebody else gets a laugh,” Gallagher said, to which Chase responded “Just for the record I think he’s a fine young comedian and I think he’s going a long way.”
“For the record, you don’t matter,” replied Gallagher.
Gallagher was the No. 1 comedian in America for 15 years, with comedy specials airing on Showtime and MTV. In his career spanning decades, Gallagher hosted 14 Showtime specials and around 3,500 live comedy shows, according to his website.
The comedian toured America for the majority of his career until the Covid-19 pandemic. In his later years, he starred in a long-running Geico commercial and his first movie, “The Book of Daniel.”