Harry Anderson, the actor best known for playing an off-the-wall judge working the night shift of a Manhattan courtroom in the NBC comedy series “Night Court,” was found dead on April 16 at his home in Asheville, N.C. He was 65.
A statement from the Asheville Police Department said officers responded to a call from Mr. Anderson’s home and that foul play is not suspected.
On “Night Court,” which aired from 1984 until 1992, Mr. Anderson played Judge Harry T. Stone, a young jurist who professed his love for jazz singer Mel Tormé, 1930s actress Jean Harlow, magic tricks and his collection of art-deco ties.
He received three lead comedy actor Emmy nominations for the sitcom, which also featured an ensemble cast including John Larroquette, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Marsha Warfield and Charles Robinson. Tormé also made cameo appearances.
After the show ended, Mr. Anderson was cast in the lead role in the CBS sitcom “Dave’s World,” based on the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist Dave Barry. That series ran from 1993 to 1997.
Mr. Anderson, a low-key performer, prided himself on being a magician more than an actor. “I got into magic when I was a child,” he told the Associated Press in 1987. “Unlike most kids, I stayed with it. My high school teachers were always asking me what I was going to do. It made me what I am today — available for weekend employment, parties and bar mitzvahs.”
Harry Laverne Anderson was born in Newport, R.I., on Oct. 14, 1952. He told People magazine that his father was a salesman who was estranged from the family; he had not seen his father in 15 years before getting a call one day to collect the body. He was coy about whether his mother was a prostitute, telling the magazine, “She was a hustler, yeah; she did a lot of things. We moved around a lot, and she had a lot of men friends.”
He added: “I respect my mother; she was very concerned with taking care of us. She did what needed to be done to try to keep us together. People find my criminal days amusing, but they find her background shocking. I don’t draw any line.”
He moved a dozen times by age 16 from New York to Los Angeles. In high school, he began street hustling and, after graduation, opened a magic parlor in Ashland, Ore. “The Shakespeare Festival at Ashland . . . seemed like a good place to open a magic store,” he told the AP in 1987. “At 18, I was ready for retirement. It didn’t last long, but I was established as the magician. I worked the streets in San Francisco, and I did magic and special effects at the festival.”
When he made his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” he was right off the street. He soon appeared on the popular NBC sitcom “Cheers” as con man Harry “The Hat” Gittes.
“ ‘Cheers’ was my first acting job, but it was basically the character I had developed on the street,” he said. “That’s how I made my living, hustling drinks in bars and quarters on the street.”
A People magazine story in 2002 said Mr. Anderson disappeared from Hollywood and resurfaced as the owner of a New Orleans magic shop. “I am richer than Davy Crockett,” Mr. Anderson said. “I can settle back and do what I want to do. And what I want to do is card tricks and magic.” He reportedly earned $20,000 doing a 55-minute act at corporate events.
According to the story, Mr. Anderson was disenchanted by the prospect of chasing acting roles into middle age. “I don’t understand why guys have that Don Knotts syndrome of having to be out there,” he said. He sold his home in Pasadena, Calif., and moved back to New Orleans, where he had lived in the 1970s. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Asheville.
His first marriage, to actress and magician Leslie Pollack, with whom he had two children, ended in divorce. In 2000, he married Elizabeth Morgan, a bartender he met in New Orleans. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.