Harvey Matusow, 75, a former communist who testified against alleged communists and then claimed that he had lied when he did so, died Jan. 17 at a hospital in Lebanon, N.H., after being injured in an auto accident Jan. 2.
In his later life, Mr. Matusow repackaged himself as a benign figure who entertained children and offered inspirational messages. But in the 1950s, his recantation convinced many that he was either a venal Red conspirator or a man with mental problems.
He aroused the ire of members of Congress, was convicted of perjury and served a prison sentence.
A 1955 newspaper column by Stewart Alsop embodies the bewilderment and consternation created by Mr. Matusow's shifting claims.
"It may be said, of course, that Matusow, having lied before, is lying now when he admits his lies," Alsop wrote.
No issue so preoccupied the nation in the first half of the 1950s as possible communist subversion in the United States. In those tense and troubled times, Mr. Matusow's behavior enhanced feelings of frustration.
His confession that he "repeatedly lied under oath both before congressional committees and as a professional government witness in several important cases in federal courts has created a most embarrassing dilemma for the government," columnist Marquis Childs wrote on Feb. 11, 1955.
"No one as yet sees the way out."
Eleven days earlier, Mr. Matusow had prompted such puzzlement when he said he had supplied false testimony at the 1952 trial of 13 alleged second-string communist leaders.
He said he lied at a series of anti-communist trials and hearings because he would "do anything for a buck."
Mr. Matusow claimed that prosecutor Roy M. Cohn had coached him to give false testimony. Cohn, who became known as an aide to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), denied the allegations.
In The Washington Post, columnist Malvina Lindsay suggested that the credibility of witnesses at high-profile congressional hearings needed to be evaluated more rigorously. She called Mr. Matusow a vivid example of the need to subject informers to personality tests.
In a Dec. 30, 1956, report, the Senate's internal security subcommittee alleged that communists gave Mr. Matusow financial inducements to recant his testimony.
On the basis of his statements, new trials were granted to two of the 13 convicted.
Mr. Matusow was convicted of perjury in 1956, a year after his memoir, "False Witness," was published.
According to statements he made in the 1950s, he was born in the Bronx, N.Y., served in the Army during World War II, worked in radio and television for a time and joined the Communist Party in 1947.
Once, he said, he won a trip to Puerto Rico for selling 236 subscriptions to a communist publication in nine weeks. In 1950, he said, he decided to become an FBI informant while remaining in the party, and the next year, the party expelled him.
Soon after, he began giving testimony at hearings. One reporter wrote that the same diligence that helped his subscription sales fostered his rise in the ranks of name-naming anti-communist witnesses.
The perjury conviction brought him 44 months in prison. After his release, he toured with a road and puppet show as the leader of the Magic Mouse Theater Companie, which drew laughter from audiences of children.
He abandoned the first name Harvey for Job, the long-suffering biblical figure.
At one point, Mr. Matusow said that syndicated columnist Jack Anderson had inspired him to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I hope not," Anderson was quoted as saying.
In 1993, a documentary was shown on television on the later lives of McCarthy era personalities. Mr. Matusow, bearded and long-haired, said the excitement of his testimony had turned his head and trapped him in a net of deception.
In December 2000, a television industry publication said that Mr. Matusow was playing a clown named Cockyboo in sketches he was producing in Glenwood, Utah, for public access television.
The report said he had continued to tour, often as the clown, asking for virtue and tolerance from troubled teenagers, drug users and poor people.
According to the Associated Press, he moved to New Hampshire last year and was working on converting a commune in Massachusetts into a homeless shelter and community center.
Survivors include his 11th wife and a daughter.