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Vaughn Meader, Satirist Of Kennedy Family, Dies

Associated Press
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page B07

Vaughn Meader, 68, who gained fame satirizing John F. Kennedy's presidency in the multimillion-selling album "The First Family," only to have his star plummet when the president was assassinated, died Oct. 29 at his home in central Maine after refusing to be taken to a hospital.

Sheila Meader, his fourth wife, to whom he was married 16 years, said he had chronic emphysema.

Vaughn Meader gained fame with the album "The First Family."

In late 1962, "The First Family," which poked gentle fun at President Kennedy's wealth, large family and "vigah," became the fastest-selling record of its time, racking up 7.5 million copies and winning the Grammy for album of the year.

Compared with today's bare-knuckled political humor, the satire was tame, but it tickled the funny bone of the Kennedy-obsessed public.

Mr. Meader, a native of Waterville, Maine, was recruited to play the president on the album after he began throwing Kennedy impressions into his musical act. He had to tweak his own New England accent only slightly to sound just like the Massachusetts-bred president.

"I couldn't believe what it meant to people," Mr. Meader said last year in an Associated Press interview. "I was just doing my act. I'm a singer and piano player. I just stumbled onto a voice."

Even the president was said to be amused, picking up 100 copies of the album to give as Christmas gifts. He once opened a Democratic National Committee dinner by telling delegates: "Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself."

Mr. Meader's career was stopped short when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It was also that day that Vaughn Meader died, he would say. He began going by his first name, Abbott, rather than his middle name.

After high school, Mr. Meader joined the Army, and later started doing a stand-up comedy act in New York. His Kennedy act led to the popular album, which brought instant fame to Mr. Meader, who was still in his twenties.

He appeared in Time and Life magazines and on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and he packed rooms in Las Vegas.

With Kennedy's death, his acts were canceled and stores pulled the album. His famous friends no longer associated with him. Mr. Meader said he turned to alcohol and started using cocaine and heroin.

After a period of drifting, he returned to Maine in 2002, where he wrote and played bluegrass and country music and became known for his honky-tonk performances in small bars.

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