Alan King

Alan King (born Irwin Alan Kniberg; December 26, 1927 – May 9, 2004) was an American actor and comedian known for his biting wit and often angry humorous rants. King became well known as a Jewish comedian and satirist. He was also a serious actor who appeared in a number of movies and television shows. King wrote several books, produced films, and appeared in plays. In later years he helped many philanthropic causes.

Alan King
Alan king 1966.JPG
King in 1966
Irwin Alan Kniberg

(1927-12-26)December 26, 1927
New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 9, 2004(2004-05-09) (aged 76)
New York City, U.S.
OccupationActor, comedian, writer, film producer
Years active1942–2004
Spouse(s)Jeanette Sprung (1947–2004; his death; 3 children)[1]

Early lifeEdit

King was born in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Minnie (née Solomon) and Bernard Kniberg, a handbag cutter;[1][2] he had one sister, Anita Kniberg. He spent his first years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Later, King's family moved to Brooklyn. King used humor to survive the tough neighborhoods. The youngest of eight children, King performed impersonations on street corners for pennies.

When he was fourteen, King performed "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" on the radio program Major Bowes Amateur Hour. He lost first prize but was invited to join a nationwide tour. At fifteen, King dropped out of high school to perform comedy at the Hotel Gradus[3] in the Catskill Mountains. After one joke that made fun of the hotel's owner, he was fired; however, he spent the remainder of that summer and the one that followed as emcee at Forman's New Prospect Hotel in Mountaindale, New York. He later worked in Canada in a burlesque house while also fighting as a professional boxer: he won twenty straight bouts. Nursing a broken nose, King decided to quit boxing and focus on comedy. He worked as a doorman at the popular nightclub Leon and Eddie's while performing comedy under the last name of the boxer who beat him, King.


With Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson in 1968

King began his comedy career with one-liner routines and other material concerning mothers-in-law and Jews. His style of comedy changed when he saw Danny Thomas in the early 1950s. King realized that he was speaking to his audience, not at them, and was getting a better response. King changed his own style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. He inspired other comedians including Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, and Bill Cosby.

King married Jeanette Sprung in 1947. They had three children: Andrew, Robert, and Elainie Ray. His wife persuaded him to move to Forest Hills, Queens for their children, and later to Great Neck, Long Island, where he lived for the rest of his life.[4] There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. With many Americans moving to the suburbs, King's humor took hold.

He was soon opening for Judy Garland, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne, and Tony Martin. When Martin was cast in the movie Hit the Deck, he got King his first movie role. He played small roles in movies in the 1950s, but disliked stereotypical roles that he described as "always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski."[5] Typical of this was his role as Sgt Buzzer in the WW2 film On the Fiddle (1961).

King eventually expanded his range and made a name for himself in a wide variety of films. He often portrayed gangsters, as in Casino (1995) and Night and the City (1992), both starring Robert De Niro, as well as I, the Jury (1982) and Cat's Eye (1985). He frequently worked for director Sidney Lumet, beginning with Bye Bye Braverman (1968) and The Anderson Tapes (1971). Lumet later cast him in a starring role in Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), a provocative comedy about a ruthless business mogul and his TV-producer mistress (Ali MacGraw). He also played himself in an uncredited cameo in Lumet's Prince of the City (1981).

He had another major role in Memories of Me (1988) as the so-called "king of the Hollywood extras," portraying Billy Crystal's terminally ill father. King played the role of corrupt union official Andy Stone in Martin Scorsese's 1995 film Casino.

Like many other Jewish comics, King worked the Catskill circuit known as the Borscht Belt. His career took off after appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Garry Moore Show. Living just outside New York City, King was frequently available when Ed Sullivan needed a short-notice fill-in. He became a regular guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and he hosted the Oscars in 1972, He was also the emcee for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. King was the long-standing host of the New York Friar's Club celebrity roasts and served as the club's historian. He headlined two unsold television pilots on CBS, both titled The Alan King Show. The first aired on September 8, 1961; the second aired on July 12, 1986.[6]

King was the first recipient (1988) of the award for American Jewish humor from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The award was ultimately named in his honor.

Personal lifeEdit

Throughout his life, King was deeply involved in charity work. He founded the Alan King Medical Center in Jerusalem, raised funds for the Nassau Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children (near his home in Kings Point, New York), and established a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University. He also created the Laugh Well program, which sends comedians to hospitals to perform for patients. In the 1970s, King turned his passion for tennis into a pro tournament at Caesars Palace Las Vegas called the Alan King Tennis Classic, which was aired nationally on the TVS Television Network. He also created the Toyota Comedy Festival.


King, who smoked cigars heavily (a fact that came up in his routines from time to time), died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on May 9, 2004, from lung cancer. He was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. The movie Christmas with the Kranks was dedicated to his memory.[1] He is also recognized in the end credits of Rush Hour 3.

He was survived by his wife—appropriately a theme of one of his most famous routines—and their three children.



  • Anybody Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It, with Kathryn Ryan (1962)
  • Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964)
  • Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater (1985)
  • Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King (1996) with Chris Chase
  • Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book (2002)
  • Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish (2005)


  1. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce (May 10, 2004). "Alan King, Comic With Chutzpah, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Alan King Biography (1927-)".
  3. ^ "Hotel Gradus, Route 42, Kiamesha Lake, New York". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
  4. ^ Ho, Janie (May 9, 2004). "Alan King, Comic, Actor Dies at 76". CBS News. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2009. King, who until then had been using worn out one-liners, found his new material at home. His wife had persuaded the New Yorker to forsake Manhattan for suburban Forest Hills, Queens, believing it would provide a better environment for their children.
  5. ^ "Comic and actor Alan King dead at 76". CNN. May 9, 2004. Archived from the original on May 10, 2004.
  6. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2009). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2007 (Volume 1 A-E). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-3305-6.
  7. ^ O'Connor, John J. (November 30, 1990). "TV Weekend; James Garner as a Curmudgeon Pulled Back Into Life" – via

External linksEdit