In 1974, Paul Lynde voted America’s favorite comedian. But his work in the entertainment industry far exceeded just the realm of comedy. He was also a gifted voice artist, game show panelist, and could shine in both comedic and dramatic roles as an actor.
He’s best known for being a character actor with a distinct snarky and campy persona who would often poke fun at his homosexuality. While he remained in the closet for the majority of his life, we all knew the status of his sexuality. As such, he would become a gay icon of sorts.
Lynde well known for his roles as the bumbling father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie and for being a regular center square panelist on the hit game show Hollywood Squares. But the role he is most often associated with is that of Uncle Arthur on Bewitched.
Paul not only voted as America’s top comic in that previously mentioned poll. But he’s also deeply admired and celebrated by his peers throughout his career. Mel Brooks, for one, once said that Lynde could get a laugh out of people just by reading the phone book or even a seed catalog.
But even though he’s known as a Hollywood funnyman, he once stated that he would have rather been recognized as a serious actor. Even so, he felt that what he was able to provide through his comedy was a significant contribution, as what the world needs most is laughter.
No one laughing, however, on January 10, 1982 when Lynde found dead in his Beverly Hills home by his friend Paul Barresi after he failed to attend a birthday party and couldn’t reached by phone. He was only 55 years old when he passed away.
There was some speculation after his death that Lynde had a visitor shortly before his death, but the body of evidence currently available doesn’t lend any credence to this notion. We’ll cover that in a bit more detail in just a moment, so make sure you stick around.
Anyway, the coroner’s report officially ruled Lynde’s death as caused by a heart attack, but recent revelations have shed a bit more light on that. Join us as we take a look at what might have brought about his death while highlighting some of Lynde’s career contributions.
From A Small Midwestern Town To Hollywood
Paul Lynde came into this world in 1926. He was born in the relatively small town of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and was one of six children. His father was a local cop and the sheriff of the town jail for two years, while his mother was your typical homemaker.
Lynde became inspired to pursue a career in show business when he was just four years old after his mother took him to a screening of the original silent film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. After graduating from High School, he enrolled at Northwestern University before relocating to the Big Apple. It was in New York City that he landed his first big break as a stand-up comic at the Number One Fifth Avenue nightclub. After that, he appeared in a Broadway show called ‘New Faces of 1952’.
A few years prior, Lynde had a two-year run on television on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall. He would later perform in both the Broadway and Film adaptations of Bye Bye Birdie. Broadway would always be dear to Lynde’s heart, and throughout his life, he would appear in numerous Broadway productions such as The Impossible Years, Plaza Suite, and Don’t Drink the Water.
Among his many film credits include 1964s Send Me No Flowers and 1978s Rabbit Test.
His most iconic role, however, was playing the recurring character Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. He would also appear in shows like Donny Marie and The Dean Martin Show.
Aside from Bewitched, Lynde’s most notable television credit was for being a panelist on Hollywood Squares. He became a fan favorite on that program thanks to his witty one-liners and his unique comedic delivery.
While those shows certainly helped Lynde find success in Hollywood, he desperately wanted to taken seriously for his own efforts. Late in his life, he produced two television shows of his own, The Paul Lynde Show, which debuted in 1972, and The New Temperatures Rising Show, which also hit the air that same year. Unfortunately, both shows failed to develop a following, sunk in the ratings, and promptly canceled.
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Alcoholism, Trouble With The Law, And Lynde’s Final Years
Even though he viewed in a relatively positive, if not glowing, light throughout his career, it the failure of Lynde’s two television series that evidently exacerbated his problems with alcohol. Ultimately, his drinking would lead to several run-ins with the long arm of the law and numerous arrests for public intoxication. It also reported that Lynde would regularly verbally berate his friends whenever he would get drunk.
But even though he prone to getting belligerent whenever he would hit the bottle. Lynde’s enduring popularity led him to signed by ABC to host several specials in the mid to late 70s including The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour and The Paul Lynde Halloween Special which hit the airwaves in 1975 and 1976 respectively.
In addition to his drinking issues, Lynde also struggled to keep his weight in check. And in 1977, his beloved dog, Harry MacAfee, passed on. Lynde couldn’t leave his house without his canine companion, so losing him was a bit of a low blow.
A year later, he purchased a new home and proceeded to spend a great deal of money renovating it.
In 1978, Lynde guest-starred as a weatherman for a local Toledo, Ohio station. That same year while making an appearance on the Donny and Marie Show in Salt Lake City, Utah; he arrested outside of a gay bar for harassing a police officer investigating a car break-in.
The case later dropped, but he ended up losing his guest-starring spot on The Donny and Marie Show in the process.
After the final programs he appeared on, 1978s Paul Lynde at the Movies and 1979s Paul Lynde Goes M-A-A-A-AD; aired on ABC, Lynde found himself disenchanted by the entertainment industry and hated how he had felt ‘boxed in’ – pun intended – by his recurring appearances on Hollywood Squares.
After leaving the game show, acting gigs became few and far between for him. While he claimed this because of homophobia; it’s also likely that his substance abuse issues and erratic behavior played a part in his decline.
On one occasion, he pulled over for drunk driving. While arrested, he quite irate. He later made a series of rude and racist comments publicly about various people he didn’t like. All of these factors led to him developing a reputation for being hard to work with.
Lynde did end up getting sober in early 1980, but at this point Hollywood Squares already experiencing a ratings free fall. And Lynde had little desire to return to the program in decline. But reportedly, they made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. And he ended up returning to the series later that spring. He would remain with the program until it’s cancellation in February of 1981.
Sex And Drugs Ended Up Doing Him In
Lynde had a dark childhood that scarred him for life and left him with many insecurities. One of these insecurities, arguably his most significant, was related to his sexuality.
Lynde was gay at a time in history when society frowned upon homosexuality. As such, he did his best to hide his sexual orientation for as long as he could. Fearing that if the public knew he was gay, his career would be over.
Even though he was afraid to come out, his sexuality just might have been the secret to his success. He often cast in gay roles, and actually gay made it a whole lot easier for him to give a convincing performance.
His most prominent role as a gay individual was on Bewitched playing Samantha’s homosexual uncle Arthur. The series aired from 1962 to 1972, with Lynde appearing in eleven of it’s 254 episodes.
But years later, when he found himself struggling to find meaningful roles. Lynde turned to a life of sex, drugs, and alcohol to ease his troubled mind.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that following his death; traces of a heart drug fequently used as a sexual stimulant were found in his bloodstream. The Daily News of LA reported in 1982 that traces of butyl nitrate. An unregulated drug that is known to cause elevated heart rate, were found in his system.
It remains unclear if this drug contributed to his heart attack, but it hasn’t been totally ruled out. Since he already had heart problems from his years of partying and heavy drinking. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the drug could have exacerbated his health issues leading to the heart attack that ultimately killed him.
In addition to the drug being found in his system. Two bottles of butyl nitrate were found on a nightstand next to his bed when his body was found. One was open, and one was full.
And as far as that supposed visitor that Lynde reportedly had shortly before his death. It’s unlikely that anyone was with him before or after his death other than Paul Barresi. His friend who discovered his body; because when Barresi entered his house through a side entrance, he tripped the home’s security alarm. If anyone else had entered the residence previously, they would have likely set off this alarm as well.
It’s always tragic to hear about a stars death, but it’s particularly unsettling to learn of a celebrities passing shortly after their career began to fall apart. In the end, Paul Lynde died alone and humiliated. What worse way could there be to leave this world?
Do you think that the drugs found in Lynde’s system contributed to his heart attack, or do you doubt that there was enough in his system to do any serious harm? Let us know in the comments section down below.
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