Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March 20, 1936:

Vaughn Meader's Birthday

If there ever were a good example of the dangers of typecasting, at least to an entertainer's career, Vaughn Meader is it. Born this day in 1936, Meader found unexpected success in his 20s by doing a comic impersonation of President John F. Kennedy. As long as Camelot lasted, so did his success. He did standup all over the country and recorded two bestselling comedy albums, The First Family and The First Family, Volume Two.

With the assassination of the president, Meader's career was over too. Years later, he told the New York Times Magazine about what happened to him on November 22, 1963: "I was in a cab in Milwaukee, and the cabdriver said, 'Hey, did you hear about Kennedy in Dallas?' And I said, 'No, how does it go?' because I thought it was another Kennedy joke. But it wasn't. So I went to my hotel, grabbed a bottle of booze, went back to New York and just kind of drowned myself.

"Everything got canceled, and everything stopped. I remember walking down Second Avenue, and this big huge construction worker in a hard hat stopped his riveting and ran over to me with tears in his eyes wringing my hands and saying, 'I'm sorry.' It was weird. Most of my show-business friends dropped me -- I was no longer a commodity to them. So I got barroom heavy. I got into cocaine, heroin. And I went down South and drifted from place to place to place."

Eventually he pursued a career as a local musician in Maine, his home state, but he died mostly forgotten in 2004. A radio obit is posted here.

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