Famed comedian Gallagher dead at age 76

Comedian Leo Gallagher, famed for smashing watermelons and other food items on stage with a large wooden mallet, died Friday at the age of 76, CNN reported.

According to his manager, Craig Marquardo, the comedian “passed away surrounded by his family in Palm Springs, California” following a “short health battle.”

Died in hospice care

TMZ reported that, per Marquardo, Gallagher had been living in hospice care and was in declining health for some time following multiple heart attacks over the years, and that the cause of death was massive organ failure.

The outlet noted that Gallagher had once collapsed onstage during a show in Minnesota with a health issue in 2011, and had to cancel a show in Texas in 2012 after he suffered a heart attack shortly before his performance began.

“Gallagher stayed on the road touring America for decades. He was pretty sure he held a record for the most stand-up dates, by attrition alone,” the manager said. “While Gallagher had his detractors, he was an undeniable talent and an American success story.”

The “Sledge-O-Matic”

TMZ reported that Gallagher got his first big break as a prop comedian with an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1975.

It was in 1980, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that Gallagher starred in “An Uncensored Evening” on Showtime, which was one of the first stand-up comedy specials to air on cable TV. He would go on to do a total of 12 comedy specials for the premium cable network over the decades.

Though the comedian had plenty of observational jokes and humorous stories that are standard in stand-up comedy, it was his use of a handmade wooden mallet dubbed the “Sledge-O-Matic,” a parody of the popular Veg-O-Matic product at that time, that he used to smash a variety of food items on stage, especially watermelons, that transformed him into a household name.

In a 2013 interview, Gallagher was asked how many watermelons he had purchased and smashed over the years, and he replied at that time, “We just worked this out recently. I have done 200 shows a year for 35 years, use about nine watermelons a show. So that’s 63,000 watermelons. I have spent over $250,000 of my own money on watermelons.”

Lengthy career marred by lawsuits

Variety reported that Gallagher is estimated to have performed around 3,500 live shows up until a final tour in 2019 just before the pandemic. He also appeared in a long-running Geico Insurance commercial and in the movie “The Book of Daniel.”

In addition to his health troubles later in life, Gallagher also had some legal issues, such as a lawsuit to stop his brother Ron from copying his routine in his own comedy shows, as well as a lawsuit filed against him by an audience member who claimed to have been injured by debris from a smashed prop.

He is survived by his daughter, Aimee, and his son, Barnaby.