Born in Ohio in 1933, Tim Conway first gained notice for his portrayal of Ensign Parker on the 1960s military comedy McHale's Navy. He earned his greatest fame as an oft-featured guest and then cast member of The Carol Burnett Show, where he became known for cracking up co-stars with his improvisations. He paired with fellow comedian Don Knotts for several films throughout the late 1970s, and later enjoyed success on the home video market with his Dorf movies. A six-time Emmy winner, Conway has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Actor Tim Conway was born Thomas Daniel Conway on December 15, 1933, in Willoughby, Ohio, and mainly grew up in nearby Chagrin Falls. The only child of European immigrants – dad Dan was from Ireland and mom Sophie from Romania – Conway moved often as his parents struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Exposed to horses through one of his dad's jobs as a stable hand, he initially wanted to become a jockey, but soon realized he had a gift for making people laugh.
Conway attended Chagrin Falls High School and then Bowling Green State University, where he studied television and radio and showcased his unique sense of humor as a disc jockey. After graduating in 1956, he spent two years in the U.S. Army.
After his discharge, Conway began writing promotional spots for radio and television in Cleveland. In 1961 he became the director of Ernie's Place, a WJW-TV movie program that featured Ernie Anderson as host. Struggling to book guests, Conway began appearing on camera in various made-up roles, and the two would ad-lib an interview.
Conway's antics caught the attention of actress Rose Marie, who helped him land a spot on Steve Allen's variety show. The gig brought a name change – to "Tim Conway," as there was already a Tom Conway working in Hollywood – and the exposure that helped the actor garner his breakthrough role on McHale's Navy. As Ensign Parker, second in command to Ernest Borgnine's Lieutenant Commander McHale, Conway played the sort of goofy, bumbling character that would become his trademark. He starred on the sitcom from 1962 to 1966, earning an Emmy Award nomination along the way, and joined the cast for two spinoff feature films.
Conway scored his first headlining role with Rango, in which he played an inept Texas Ranger, but the show failed to gain traction after debuting in January 1967. In 1970, he tried again with The Tim Conway Show, as the pilot of a tiny charter airline, and The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, a variety show, but again found both canceled after airing for half a season.
'The Carol Burnett Show'
Meanwhile, Conway was hitting his stride on The Carol Burnett Show, which proved the perfect outlet for his improvisational abilities and brand of physical humor. A regular guest since the program's inception in 1967, Conway created such memorable characters as Mr. Tudball and the Oldest Man, and became known for making stars Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and especially Harvey Korman break down in laughter in the middle of a sketch.
Named a regular cast member in 1975, Conway remained a steadying presence on the show through the departures of Waggoner and Korman and the brief addition of Dick Van Dyke to the mix. By the time Carol Burnett finally signed off in 1979, he had garnered three Emmy wins for his performances and another for writing.
Family Movies and 'Dorf'
Commencing with his role in The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973), Conway starred in a string of family feature comedies over the following decade. He paired with fellow Steve Allen alumnus Don Knotts for many of them, including The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976) and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). Conway also earned writing credits for several films, including The Billion Dollar Hobo (1977), The Prize Fighter (1979) and The Longshot (1986).
On the small screen, Conway again struggled to deliver a program with staying power. The Tim Conway Show remained on air for a year after its debut in 1980, although it was dismissed in one review as "The Carol Burnett Show without Carol Burnett." Ace Crawford, Private Eye, a detective parody, lasted a few short weeks in 1983.
The comedian did score a hit with Dorf, an accented, diminutive character played by Conway standing in a hole with fake shoes at his knees. Dorf on Golf (1987) became a popular item on the home video market, as did Dorf Goes Fishing (1993) and several other sequels. Conway also brought his well-honed stage presence to the theater, starring in a touring revival of The Odd Couple through the late 1980s. In 1989, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His chances of headlining a program all but gone with the demise of the variety show format, Conway nevertheless remained active on TV through spots on sitcoms like Married with Children and Mad About You. He won an Emmy in 1996 for an acclaimed appearance on Coach, and repeated the feat in 2008 following his turn on 30 Rock.
Beginning in 1999, Conway gave longtime fans a treat by pairing with his old partner Korman for their Together Again reunion tour. Around this time, he also introduced his talents to a much younger generation as the voice of Barnacle Boy on the cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants.
Shrugging off any concern about his advancing years, Conway continued to crack up live audiences, both on his own and alongside new partner Chuck McCann, as he approached his 80th birthday. He celebrated the occasion in 2013 with the release of a memoir, What's So Funny? My Hilarious Life, and has since remained a fixture on the big and small screens via programs like Glee and movies such as the comedy Chip & Bernie's Zomance (2015).
Conway was married to Mary Anne Dalton from 1961 to 1978, and has been with his second wife, Charlene Fusco, since 1984. Of his seven children, Tim Jr. became an actor before earning prominence as a radio talk show host in Southern California.
Along with decades of writing and performing, Conway has been active with several charities. He co-founded the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund to aid injured and disabled jockeys, and has been a spokesperson for the United Leukodystrophy Foundation. Additionally, he has served as a member of the Parents Television Council.
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