If you’ve ever found yourself watching old re-runs of The Addams Family then you probably are family with the cast of characters. There are Gomez and Morticia, Uncle Fester, Cousin It, Pugsley, Thing, everyone’s favorite Goth Diva Wednesday, and of course Lurch.
The latter mentioned towering monstrosity was played by Ted Cassidy. He was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, grew up in Philippi, West Virginia, but later moved to Dallas, Texas, but his story didn’t stop there.
At 6 feet 9 inches tall, he was one of the tallest actors to ever find success in Tinseltown. He loomed over the rest of the cast, his voice was unfathomably deep and his signature line ‘You Rang?’ would stop you dead in your tracks.
Cassidy actually ad-libbed that line. Lurch was never intended to speak, but producers absolutely adored the little piece of improvisation and it stuck. His other groans, sighs, and guttural grunts had a great effect on audiences as well.
A quick google image search reveals that Ted Cassidy was a man of many faces. It’s hard to hide the identity of someone that looked so strikingly unique but you have to give his makeup artists credit for their work. They did a pretty decent job, to say the least.
Besides playing Lurch on The Addams Family, he also played a gun-slinger in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as a Native American in The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In 1978, he very fittingly played Goliath in a TV series titled The Greatest Heroes of the Bible and followed that up by playing Bigfoot in the Six Million Dollar Man alongside Lee Majors as Steve Austin – no, not the wrestler.
And like so many other actors throughout show biz history, he also had a cameo on Star Trek – because who hasn’t done that at least once?
Even though he had a pretty successful life in terms of his career, his personal life – especially in the end – was rife with struggle and tragedy. Let’s take a closer look at the man behind the Lurch. Stick around for the whole video to find out how his story came to a heartbreaking end.
Ted’s Younger Years – Full Of Promise
Cassidy was an extraordinarily gifted student. He started high school at a very early age and loved sports. He was on both the basketball and football teams. But despite his intelligence and athletic skill, he was the frequent target of bullying by his classmates because of his young age coupled with his abnormally lanky physique. By the time he was 14, he had already reached 6 feet 1 inch tall.
The bullying and childish jabs he was subjected to gave him a lot of self-image issues, but he did his best to use the taunting as fuel to propel him forward. Ted always had the drive to succeed. The concept of ‘beating the odds’ would be a recurring theme throughout his life – whether he wanted it to be or not.
After graduating from high school he moved so he could attend West Virginia Wesleyan College. He became a pledged member of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity while he was there which helped him to experience a sense of camaraderie with his peers – something that was sorely lacking in his High School years.
He transferred to Stetson University in central Florida where he played basketball for the Stetson Hatters – averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game in his three seasons. While at Stetson he also became an active contributor to student government and joined the Ormond Beach Live Saving Corp. He would work as a lifeguard in the Daytona-Ormond Beach area for the remainder of his college years.
Marriage and a Move to Dallas
Cassidy graduated with a degree in speech and drama. Shortly thereafter he married his sweetheart Margaret Helen in 1956. The two then decided it was time to make a move to Dallas, Texas.
It was there that he started his career in the entertainment industry when he was hired as a mid-day DJ for WFAA-AM. He then landed a small role as Creech the alien on WFAA-TV’s ‘Dialing for Dollars’ afternoon movie block.
Historically, he was in studio to deliver the news of the JFK assassination and was one of the first to interview eyewitnesses W.E. Newman Jr, and Gayle Newman.
Ted Cassidy was also a skilled organist and moonlighted at Luby’s Cafe in the Lochwood shopping center near downtown Dallas.
In 1957, his wife Margaret gave birth to their first child, Sean and then 3 years later the couple welcomed the birth of their daughter Cameron. Things were looking up for Cassidy. His career was coming together and his family was growing.
His First Big Break
In 1959, Ted Cassidy landed his first credited film role -albeit a minor one – as a martian in the Ib Melchior science fiction film The Angry Red Planet starring Gerald Mohr.
Ted struggled to find acting work after that film, and he really began to question if his dream of becoming a full-fledged actor had been cut short – that was until he scored one his most iconic roles as Lurch in The Addams Family in 1964.
Most folks aren’t aware of the fact that he played another character on The Addam’s Family as well – no, he wasn’t secretly Morticia in drag – but he also was the ‘actor’, if you will, for Thing – the disembodied hand.
Even though he was an accomplished musician, he only pretended to play the harpsichord on The Addams Family. Cassidy would go on to reprise his role a Lurch in later TV show appearances – notably in the Batman episode The Penguins Nest which aired in 1966. He also voiced the role for The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972 and for the 1973 Addams Family animated series. That wouldn’t be the end of this voice acting career either. In fact, you could say that voice acting became his bread and butter.
But it wasn’t too much later that Ted Cassidy tragically died. Stick around to hear about it – and if you’re enjoying this video so far, make sure you hit the like button and subscribe to our channel. Then tap the bell icon to turn on notifications.
Cassidy – A Prolific Voice Actor
In the Star Trek episode ‘Arena’ Cassidy played the voice of Gorn – a reptilian alien who gave Kirk close to more than he could handle. Kirk ended up defeating him however when he constructed a bazooka out of bamboo and sulfur and blew Gorn into smithereens. If that’s not some MacGyver-like wizardry, then we don’t know what is.
Cassidy also played Ben Grimm on The New Fantastic Four. Ben Grimm AKA The Thing was originally played by legendary voice actor Paul Frees but Ted was called in when the series got a reboot in 1978.
His deep voice made him perfect for villainous roles in shows like Superfriends where he voiced Brainiac and Black Manta. He also provided grunting noises for the 1979 Godzilla animated series and The Incredible Hulk when Lou Ferrgno transforms into his mean-green alter-ego. For that show, he also was the opening narrator.
When he wasn’t doing voice-overs for cartoons and TV series, he also appeared in dozens of TV commercials.
Typecasted and Frustrated
Ted’s unusually large size was said to be the boon and the bane of his existence. It seemed like no matter what, he was always cast as some kind of freak, giant, or monster. To Cassidy, this was painfully frustrating – seeing as he took his acting career very seriously.
When asked about how he felt about his role as Lurch, he expressed that it wasn’t the role that he wanted to be remembered by but he knew that it would be most people’s closest association to his name for years to come. He also expressed that he wasn’t proud of any of the roles he had played. He was perpetually waiting for the right part to come around that he could stand behind with pride, but instead, he just kept getting parts that rehashed the same old concept. Yes, he was large. Yes he had a deep voice, and sure, he was kind of intimidating until you got to know him, but that’s not how he wanted to be remembered.
He was bullied when he was in High School because of his stature and it seemed as if he was being picked-on once again by the industry he worked in. Sure, he was being paid well but at the end of the day, he couldn’t help but feel like a sideshow attraction.
A Tragic Demise
In 1975, he and his wife Margaret Helen Jesse got divorced following a particularly rocky period in their relationship, but that was just the beginning of his woes.
People with gigantism such as Ted Cassidy oftentimes have circulatory or heart problems. Ted had been having health problems for years before he was diagnosed with heart disease, to make matters worse, he had a non-malignant tumor that had formed around his heart. Cassidy went in for surgery in January of 1979 – specifically, he needed open-heart surgery to remove the mass.
The procedure seemed to go well, but a few days after he came home and was recuperating, he began to have complications. He was readmitted to the hospital and unexpectedly passed away on January 6, 1979.
Per his wishes, his ashes were scattered around his backyard.
He left behind his two children Sean and Cameron. Incidentally, both of his children went on to become attorneys.
Cassidy was only 46 years old when he passed. He had so much life ahead of him still – and he was still in search of that perfect role, the one that he would be remembered by.
As much as he probably would hate hearing it, we will more than likely always remember him best as Lurch. Is that who you think of when you think of Ted Cassidy, or does another role come to mind? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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