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Watermelon-Smashing Comedian Gallagher Dead at 76: Performer Dies After ‘Short Health Battle’

Watermelon-Smashing Comedian Gallagher Dead at 76: Performer Dies After 'Short Health Battle'
Gallagher Shutterstock

Gallagher, the comedian known for smashing watermelons during his act, has died at age 76.

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The North Carolina native — whose full name was Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. — died on Friday, November 11, “after a short health battle,” his manager, Craig Marquardo, confirmed to CNN. The spokesperson confirmed that the performer “passed away surrounded by his family in Palm Springs, California.”

The comic’s son-in-law told NBC News that Gallagher had previously suffered “multiple heart attacks.” In March 2011, the Book of Daniel star collapsed on stage during a performance after suffering a minor heart attack. The following year, Gallagher was placed in a medically induced coma after suffering what his manager described as a “mild to serious” heart attack.

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After his recovery, he continued touring and made cameo appearances on The Eric Andre Show in 2013 and Celebrity Big Brother 2 in 2019. That same year, he embarked on his farewell tour, called The Last Smash.

Gallagher’s signature act included a segment he called the “Sledge-O-Matic,” where he would destroy various foods and objects using a large mallet. The bit usually ended with him smashing a watermelon, spraying the audience with bits of the fruit.

The University of South Florida graduate got his start in the 1970s, appearing on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was the host. As his act rose in popularity, he headlined a series of solo comedy specials for Showtime, eventually producing 14 total.

The Sledge-O-Matic routine was inspired by commercials for the Veg-O-Matic, a food processing appliance that became available in the 1960s. “Why don’t you hit it with a hammer if you want it in little pieces?” Gallagher asked.

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In later years, however, the comedian came under fire for telling racist and homophobic jokes in his act. He famously walked out of a 2011 interview with Marc Maron after the “WTF” podcast host, 59, asked him about allegations that his comedy was offensive. “There’s not hate involved here,” Gallagher claimed at the time. “We’re telling jokes. I’m not angry.”

Maron, for his part, replied: “You’re a guy who smashes things.”

In a statement to Variety, Marquardo said of his late client: “While Gallagher had his detractors, he was an undeniable talent and an American success story.”

Earlier this year, comedian Paul F. Tompkins played Gallagher in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which starred Daniel Radcliffe as the titular musician.

Gallagher is survived by son Barnaby and daughter Aimee, the latter of whom appeared in some of her father’s comedy specials.

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