The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bob Saget, wholesome ‘Full House’ star and ribald comic, dies at 65

Actor and comedian Bob Saget in 2008. (Dan Steinberg/AP)

Bob Saget, a Jekyll-Hyde comedian who gleefully veered from the wholesome to the profane, offering fatherly advice on “Full House,” hosting the family-friendly clip show “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and telling some of the dirtiest jokes imaginable in his stand-up sets and cable television specials, was found dead on Jan. 9 in Orlando. He was 65.

His death was confirmed in a statement by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which said Mr. Saget was found unresponsive in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. The cause was not known, but the statement said that detectives found “no signs of foul play or drug use.”

Mr. Saget was on tour and had performed Saturday at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall outside Jacksonville. “I had no idea I did a 2 hr set tonight,” he wrote on Twitter after the show. “I’m happily addicted again to this.”

A foul-mouthed comic with a deadpan, stream-of-consciousness style, Mr. Saget had an inveterate blue streak that was captured in “The Aristocrats,” a 2005 documentary about an off-color joke that has been told and retold since the vaudeville era. Mr. Saget’s version of the bit lasted seven minutes and involved incest, feces, pimples, hemorrhoids and a depraved rendition of “Make 'Em Laugh.” By the time he finished, he was laughing so much he could hardly tell the punchline.

“He is this hilarious pervert,” his “Full House” co-star John Stamos once told The Washington Post. “But he’s this hilarious pervert with a heart of gold.”

While Mr. Saget often played a kind of filthy but amiable uncle onstage, he was perhaps best known as a squeaky-clean father figure, a result of his star-making role on “Full House.” He played Danny Tanner, the recently widowed father of three young daughters (played by Candace Cameron, Jodie Sweetin and twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), whom he raises with help from his brother-in-law (Stamos) and best friend (Dave Coulier).

Airing on ABC from 1987 to 1995, the sitcom was considered hackneyed and oversentimental by many critics but resonated with tens of millions of viewers. Mr. Saget’s character was frequently shown offering gentle guidance to his daughters, encouraging them to keep a tidy home and not worry so much about personal appearances. “How a person looks on the outside,” he tells his oldest daughter, “isn’t nearly as important as who they are on the inside.”

“Between the chop-people-up zombie TV shows and movies that get made and the reality shows that abort their way onto the air, we do seem to be getting farther and farther away from the purity and intended beauty of what Full House was,” Mr. Saget wrote in his 2014 memoir, “Dirty Daddy.” “Something you can actually watch with kids. Even the littlest of kids.”

For about seven years during the show’s run, Mr. Saget also hosted “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on ABC, a showcase for accidental humor that originated as a special in 1989 and became a weekly series the next year, long before the rise of YouTube. Now in its 32nd season, the show initially featured Mr. Saget offering a running commentary over camcorder footage of pratfalls, pranks and domestic absurdities — a toddler falling asleep in her food, a cat careening off the dining table, a woman inexplicably stuck inside a dishwasher.

The show became an international phenomenon, even as some viewers objected to Mr. Saget’s running commentary of corny jokes. “I walk down the street, and all people say is, ‘Who writes your stupid jokes?’ ” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1996, the year before he left the show. “That’s all they say to me … or, ‘I watch you, but my husband won’t, he turns the sound off.’ ”

Still, he said he learned to embrace “AFHV,” even as he was more interested in doing stand-up and directing the occasional movie. “I don’t want to apologize anymore. It entertained the whole world. That and ‘Full House’ are going to be on long after I’m dead,” he told the Tribune in 2000. “I didn’t sit back and laugh at me,” he added. “And I know I’m funny; that’s one of the few things I’m secure about.”

Robert Lane Saget was born in Philadelphia on May 17, 1956. His mother was an administrative assistant at a hospital, and his father was a supermarket executive with a fondness for bawdy jokes. “He was a grown-up who said things a nine-year-old like me always wanted to say because I was told not to,” Mr. Saget wrote in his memoir.

As Mr. Saget told it, he turned toward comedy partly as a response to death: Almost every two years during his childhood, one of his relatives died young, often from a heart attack.

“If a really good comedian isn’t depressed, something’s wrong. … When you’re a comedian, you’re looking at the world from the outside in,” he told The Washington Post. “You’re trying to be funny, but at the same time you’re really asking, ‘What’s it all mean?’ ”

Mr. Saget studied film at Temple University, graduating in 1978. That same year, he won a Student Academy Award for directing a documentary short, “Through Adam’s Eyes,” about a nephew who underwent facial reconstruction surgery. While in Los Angeles to accept the honor, he performed a comedy set and was spotted by Mitzi Shore, who ran the Comedy Store on Sunset Strip and gave him his first regular comedy gig.

Mr. Saget briefly enrolled at the University of Southern California’s film program but dropped out to focus on stand-up, training with the Groundlings comedy group and landing a job as a warm-up comedian for the sitcom “Bosom Buddies.” He later starred on the short-lived comic anthology series “New Love, American Style” and co-hosted “The Morning Program,” a CBS counterpart to “Good Morning America” and “Today,” before being cast for “Full House.”

At times, he found it difficult to stifle his bawdy side on the set. “When we would go over the scripts together in the conference room with the producers and writers, we were all supposed to be taking notes but I’d be drawing penises on the scripts and showing them to Dave and John like I was in fifth grade,” he recalled. “I couldn’t help it.”

Poking fun at his genial, network-safe persona, he later played a raunchy, bordello-visiting version of himself in the HBO series “Entourage” and made a cameo in the stoner comedy “Half Baked” (1998), in which he suggested a crucial difference between the addictive powers of marijuana and cocaine. He received a Grammy Award nomination for his comedy album “That’s What I’m Talkin’ About” (2013).

Mr. Saget returned occasionally to directing, notably making the TV movie “For Hope” (1996), which was loosely inspired by his sister Gay’s diagnosis and eventual death from scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the skin and elsewhere in the body. “This is the first thing that I’ve ever been proud of promoting,” he told the Tribune, “because nobody gets hit in the crotch, and I’m not playing a nerd.” He later joined the board of the Scleroderma Research Foundation.

He also directed feature films, including the revenge comedy “Dirty Work” (1998) with Norm Macdonald, which received poor reviews but acquired a devoted following, and “Benjamin” (2019), a dark comedy in which he starred as a father who suspects his teenage son is doing drugs.

For the most part he focused on comedy and acting. He played a widowed father once again in the WB sitcom “Raising Dad,” which was canceled in 2002 after one season, and narrated the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” throughout its nine-season run. On Broadway, he starred in 2007 as an anxious, theater-obsessed narrator in the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” and in 2015 as a Lutheran minister in the Tony-nominated play “Hand to God.”

He also hosted a short-lived reality show, “Strange Days With Bob Saget” (2010), in which he shadowed Bigfoot hunters, interviewed pro wrestlers and joined the Iron Order Motorcycle Club on an epic ride across the Midwest and the South. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, he launched a podcast, “Bob Saget’s Here for You,” interviewing guests including Tiffany Haddish and Bob Newhart.

His marriage to Sherri Kramer, a lawyer, ended in divorce. In 2018, he married Kelly Rizzo. She survives him, as do three daughters from his first marriage, Aubrey, Lara and Jennifer. Additional details on survivors were not immediately available.

Mr. Saget reprised his “Full House” role for episodes of a sequel series, “Fuller House,” which debuted on Netflix in 2016 and ran for five seasons. He often joked about the original show onstage and during interviews, as when he invited podcast host and comedian Marc Maron to ask him what his favorite episode was. “The last one,” Mr. Saget replied.

Still, he added quickly, “I’m the luckiest guy.”