Today’s video will explore surprising truths from the life of one of the most iconic stars of the 20th century, the one and only Jackie Gleason, a.k.a. the Great One. He was a successful comedian, actor, writer, and composer. He had one of the best sitcoms of his generation, The Honeymooners, and his debut album, Music For Lovers Only, still holds the record for most consecutive weeks in the Billboard top ten charts — a whopping 153. We will be diving into the depths of his personal life to bring you some shocking facts you would never have guessed about him, as well as his troubled final days. Stay tuned!
He had a misfortunate childhood.
Jackie wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that he had a somewhat terrible childhood. But the truth is, tragedy struck him at a young age. His father, Herbert Walter Gleason, abandoned the family when Jackie was nine years old. His father took everything with him, including his photographs, which meant that his son would eventually have no idea what his father looked like and would never find out.
Before his father left, the family also dealt with the loss of Jackie’s brother, who died of spinal meningitis. Jackie was too young to understand what had happened, but the event took its toll on the family. As Jackie’s father grew more detached, his mother clung to the only child she had left and became increasingly protective.
In an interview, Jackie recalled his mother’s desperate attempts to keep him concealed from the rest of the world after. According to Jackie, this left him unable to participate in street games with his peers. Sometimes, he watched them play through his window. Jackie’s mother eventually had to work to support their family. In her absence and without any other family members, Jackie began hanging out with the local gang.
Soon enough, he dropped out of high school. In addition to cracking jokes in movie theatres and pool halls for $4 a night, he made ends meet by working odd jobs. Unfortunately, his mother died in 1935 when he was only 19. He had just 36 cents to his name, and forced to build a new life for himself. And He ventured into the heart of New York City and began hunting for comedy gigs.
He almost sued the producers of The Flintstones.
It’s easy to see how much The Honeymooners influenced The Flintstones. Joe Barbera, co-founder of Hanna-Barbera and producer of the Flintstones, claimed that he had hired a writer from The Honeymooners to work on the Flintstones. This likely explains why the two shows have so much in common. However, it seems they didn’t even try to differentiate the characters.
During The Flintstones, Fred Flintstone matured in a manner that was strikingly similar to Ralph Kramden, Jackie’s character in The Honeymooners. The resemblance was so obvious that Jackie decided to file a lawsuit against Hanna-Barbera Studios. Luckily, his publicist was successful in persuading him to change his mind. His decision not to follow through with the lawsuit proved a wise one, as Gleason and The Honeymooners later introduced to many people thanks to the Flintstones. Of course, The Flintstones had a significantly longer run on television than The Honeymooners. If Jackie had proceeded in his plan to sue Hanna-Barbera, he would known as the man who destroyed the beloved cartoon series!
Still, there are some similarities that should credited to the Honeymooners. At the very least, Hanna-Barbera might want to consider giving some credit to the Honeymooners for the inspiration!
Jackie Gleason’s other side
Although we know Jackie Gleason as an entertaining comic, he may have had a darker side.
Others, especially co-workers, have characterized him as abusive, demanding, unappreciative, and even a little bit of a bully. Following a successful career as an actor and comedian, he decided to pursue a career in the music industry. He’s also a successful musician, having released over 40 albums to date, two of which have gold-certified. His name appears on the liner notes of all 40 CDs, indicating that he is the composer and conductor. Contrary to popular belief, this could not be further from the truth.
According to AllMusic, Gleason had no formal musical education. He only had a basic understanding of music theory from working with musicians. In order to accommodate Jackie’s limited musical skills, he hired Bobby Hackett, a talented trumpet player who went on to compose, orchestrate, and arrange most of Jackie’s albums. As you might have guessed, Hackett earned considerably less credit than he deserved. Worse yet, he was paid far too little for his work.
Jackie, on the other hand, gained millions of dollars from recordings that he barely contributed to. This is a pattern seen throughout his personal life – he failed to acknowledge the contributions of those who worked with him.
Bobby Hackett wasn’t the only one Jackie short-changed. He also made an enemy of Neil Simon, a writer who worked with him over the years. Simon went as far as to say that working with Jackie was his personal version of Hell. This may be why so few of his colleagues attended his funeral. In fact, the only star known to attend was Audrey Meadows, who played his wife in The Honeymooners.
Health troubles that kept getting worse.
Although Jackie wouldn’t pass away until the age of 71, he had early health issues that presented some red flags. These all originated from his unhealthy lifestyle, and many doctors would agree that it was surprising that he made it to 71 in the first place. For starters, Jackie weighed nearly 300 pounds, well above a healthy weight. Despite having a remarkable home gym, he never exercised, and his diet wasn’t perfect either. He had a love for red meat and desserts, and never touched vegetables. His drug and alcohol habits didn’t help either. Jackie was known for being able to out-drink his peers, and some sources claim he smoked four packs of cigarettes every single day.
So it’s no surprise that these habits led to some serious health conditions.
At the age of 62, he started experiencing chest pains while performing. His symptoms became so bad that he was unable to perform. After being taken to the hospital, it was determined that he needed triple-bypass surgery, which is an incredibly taxing procedure for any age.
His health issues began to snowball at the age of 70. He was diagnosed with diabetes, which he likely had for many years prior. He was also diagnosed with colon cancer, which had spread to other areas of his body, including his liver. At this time, he told his daughter that he probably wouldn’t be around much longer – and he was right. He died just one year later.
He left parties early to pray.
Despite having had a tragic childhood, Gleason was able to find peace in religion.
As it turned out, Jackie’s faith in God was high on his list of priorities, and he treated it as important as anything else. He committed to attending every Mass for two years to earn favor from God. Jackie remained steadfast in his commitment, despite the toll it took on his health. He would leave parties early to pray during the night. Jackie’s main concern was that he would not make it to heaven before he passed away.
The only way he believed he could prevent this fear was to go to Mass every single week. Still, he was continuously fearful that it wouldn’t be enough. He regularly purchased medallions of St. Genesius, the patron saint of performers, for his friends and himself. As many know, he later died peacefully in his sleep. While we cannot speak to what happened after his death, it seems like a blessing to have gone calmly and peacefully.
He altered his will just before his death.
It is not uncommon for a will to go through several changes over its lifetime. On the other hand, it is pretty unusual for a will to be amended just before death. That is exactly what happened with the will of Jackie Gleason.
In 1985, he finished the first draft of his will. Two years later, while on his deathbed, he made a sudden change regarding the recipients of his inheritance.
His wife, Marilyn, was initially scribed to receive one-half of Jackie’s estate. However, immediately before his death, he reduced this to one-third. Jackie gave the remaining portions to his two daughters, both from previous marriages, as well as his secretary.
This would be an increase in assets for his daughters, who were initially only going to receive one quarter of his wealth. However, the largest beneficiary of this adjustment was his secretary Sydell Spears, who was now going to receive $100,000 for her 29 years of service. Previously, she was only to receive $25,000.
Some find it odd that his will failed to mention his stepson or any donations, especially given his commitment to religion in his later years. In any case, Jackie clearly had some last-minute epiphanies that led him to re-evaluate his will and who should receive his wealth!
These facts don’t take away from the legendary career that Jackie Gleason built for himself, but they do show the difficulties of life in Hollywood. It’s difficult to cope with the lifestyle, which is why many of our favorite celebrities meet such tragic ends. If you enjoyed this video, be sure to watch this video next on old hollywood stars who were always drunk! We’ll see you in the next video.