The cause was heart failure, said his daughter-in-law Maggie Crosby.
As a novice comedian in the 1950s, Mr. Crosby developed his act using material he saw on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” borrowing a gag, line or idea from comedians such as Red Buttons, Buddy Hackett and Jan Murray. It wasn’t quite stealing, he later said, but was far from original. When the proprietor of the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York offered him a week onstage, he found himself desperate for fresh material.
Mr. Crosby was in the dressing room of a Springfield, Mass., club when he began to develop his signature shtick. The venue’s performers often drove in from Boston and spent the night, and one of the club’s owners turned to Mr. Crosby, inquiring how long a lively young dancer might be in town. “Find out if the girl is staying over or if she communicates,” the man said in garbled English.
“I knew he didn’t mean that word, but this was for real,” Mr. Crosby later told author Kliph Nesteroff. “I said, ‘My God, a lot of people talk like that. Maybe that would be fun.’ ” He began developing a series of deliberately mixed-up phrases: “President Johnson declared war on puberty,” “singers sing from their diagrams,” “women need tenderness and affliction.”
It took time for audiences to catch on to Mr. Crosby’s wordplay. In his first week at the Latin Quarter, in 1963, he was tasked with performing for 12 minutes between dance numbers, with no introduction or music to announce his set. “I was out there for five or six minutes before anybody even knew I was on,” he recalled.
Nonetheless, Mr. Crosby amused enough audience members that the club’s manager gave him better placement in the lineup. He stayed for 18 weeks, and after being plugged in print by gossip columnist Walter Winchell (“he’s a comic who is comical”) he was signed by the William Morris talent agency.
Mr. Crosby went on to perform on the Borscht Circuit, where he opened for a promising new singer named Robert Goulet. They toured together for three years before Mr. Crosby established himself as a headliner in his own right, performing at Las Vegas casinos and on television programs hosted by Garry Moore, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan and Glen Campbell.
He was also a regular on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Dean Martin Show,” where he once praised a “beauteous” group of young women — “they are so demure and so voluctuous and so adhesive and so protruding” — and noted that Martin treated them “with such tenderness and affliction.”
“He’s got a certain inner flux that excretes from this man,” he added. “There’s an aura of marination that radiates out of him. . . . Men don’t have that kind of apathy for women like Dean does.”
He also appeared on game shows such as “Liar’s Club” and “Hollywood Squares,” guest-starred on episodes of “Adam-12,” “The Love Boat” and “Roseanne,” and hosted “The Comedy Shop” (1978-80), a syndicated showcase for veteran comedians such as Don Rickles and Jim Nabors, as well as for relative newcomers such as Jay Leno, Brad Garrett, Michael Keaton and Nathan Lane.
For all his television work, Mr. Crosby was best known to many viewers as a pitchman, appearing in commercials for Anheuser-Busch Natural Light beer beginning in the late 1970s. “Even a good articulator like me has trouble renouncing the name,” he said in one ad. “So I just ask for a Natural. That’s easy to vocalize.”
Mr. Crosby also lent his talents to charitable causes, co-hosting Jerry Lewis’s annual Labor Day telethon to raise money for muscular dystrophy research. Another cause, as spokesman for the Better Hearing Institute in Washington, was more personal: He had developed a hearing problem while serving as a Coast Guard radar operator, when he was subjected to the noise from anti-submarine depth charges.
“I think I was the first person on television to talk about hearing loss and hearing aids,” he later told an interviewer, adding that he received “thousands and thousands of letters from people who went out and got hearing aids.”
Like most everything else in his life, Mr. Crosby also drew on his hearing problems for material. He recalled a “Tonight Show” appearance in which he told Carson that he had a “wonderful new hearing aid” and was asked, “What kind?”
He replied without missing a beat: “About a quarter to eleven.”
Norman Lawrence Crosby was born in Boston on Sept. 15, 1927. His father was a shoe salesman, and his mother was a homemaker who was born in Scotland while her own mother was en route to the United States, immigrating from what is now Ukraine.
Mr. Crosby joked that he grew up in “a tough neighborhood,” where he was part of a gang that also included a pickpocket known as “One-Finger Louie” who stole nothing but bagels and doughnuts.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Crosby worked in advertising for his father’s shoe company. He befriended Boston comics on the side and eventually started performing at restaurants and bars, followed by mayoral charity dinners and other civic functions.
In 1966, he married Joan Foley, a former dancer with the Radio City Rockettes. In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Daniel and Andrew Crosby, all of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Crosby starred in the late 1980s on “The Boys,” a short-lived Showtime sitcom created by Alan Zweibel. He later worked on Adam Sandler projects, voicing a judge in the animated movie “Eight Crazy Nights” (2002) and playing a Kmart employee in “Grown Ups 2” (2013), his last screen credit.
“The mind is an incredible thing,” Mr. Crosby once said, performing at a muscular-dystrophy telethon. “Think about this: The mind starts working the minute you’re born, and it doesn’t stop until you have to stand up in front of an audience.”
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