George Wendt Biography

Television Actor(1948–)
Actor George Wendt rose to TV fame in 1980s as wisecracking bar patron Norm Peterson on 'Cheers.'

Synopsis

Born on October 17, 1948, actor George Wendt started out his career in Chicago as part of the famed Second City comedy troupe in the 1970s. In 1982, he took on his most famous role of Norm Peterson on the hit sitcom Cheers. He stayed with the series until its end in 1993. Two years later, he debuted The George Wendt Show, which only lasted a few weeks. More recently, Wendt has worked on Broadway in 2013's Breakfast at Tiffany's and co-starred in the 2015 sitcom Clipped.

Early Life and Career

Born on October 17, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois, actor George Wendt is best known for his portrayal of likable barfly Norm Peterson on the hit sitcom Cheers. His mother was of Irish heritage, and Wendt attended an all-boys Catholic prep school called Campion Jesuit in Wisconsin. In his book, Drinking With George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer, he wrote that the place "operated like a prison camp." Wendt also explained that he was not academically minded, calling himself "a solid C-student." Despite his lackluster record, Wendt got accepted to the University of Notre Dame, but he ended up leaving because of poor grades. He later went to Rockhurst College, where he earned his bachelor's degree in economics in 1971.

After graduating, Wendt spent his time alternating between traveling in Europe and working for his father's real estate company. He later found his focus, working with the Second City troupe beginning in the mid-1970s. He started out by taking improv classes at the group's Chicago theater. "For the first time in my life, I actually worked hard at something," he said of his experiences training as an actor. His efforts paid off, as he eventually made his way into the group's touring company and main stage cast.

Wendt wed one of his fellow performers, Bernadette Birkett, in 1978. Wendt then made his credited film debut in My Bodyguard (1980), starring Chris Makepeace, Matt Dillon and Adam Baldwin. He also found work on television, appearing on such shows as Taxi and landing his first regular role on a series, Making the Grade, playing a high school phys ed teacher. The show debuted in April 1982, but it only lasted a few weeks before being canceled.

'Cheers'

In September 1982, Wendt began his run as Norm Peterson on Cheers, a sitcom set in a Boston bar. The show starred Ted Danson as bar owner and former pro baseball star Sam Malone. Wendt's character Norm was a regular and was often seen hanging out at the bar alongside mailman Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger). Viewers loved the show, which lasted for more than a decade, and Wendt received six Emmy Award nominations for his work.

Norm proved to be so popular, in fact, that the character crossed over to appear in other shows. In addition to such Cheers spinoffs as Frasier and The Tortellis, Wendt portrayed Norm on St. Elsewhere, Family Guy and The Simpsons. Not long after Cheers signed off in 1993, Wendt landed his own sitcom, with The George Wendt Show debuting in March 1995. The show was loosely based on the popular NPR program "Car Talk," which featured two jovial brothers handling automotive questions on the air. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wendt explained that this new character was similar to his much beloved Norm. The main difference, he said, was that "I won't have a beer in my hand." Unfortunately, the show failed to catch on with viewers and was canceled that April.

Recent Projects

Wendt returned to his theatrical roots in 1998 to appear on Broadway in the play Art as Yvan, also starring in the London production of the show. Wendt later joined the cast of the musical Hairspray and played Santa in the 2010 musical comedy Elf. Three years later, he co-starred with Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith in the stage adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

In addition to stage work, Wendt is still in demand on the small screen. He has done guest spots on such shows as The Ghost Whisperer, Harry's Law and Portlandia. In 2015, Wendt returned to series television with the TBS sitcom Clipped, starring Ashley Tisdale.

 

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