9 facts about Tim Conway, star of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’

Comedy legend Tim Conway, perhaps best known for his role on “The Carol Burnett Show,” died on the morning of Tuesday, May 14, at the age of 85. Prior to Conway’s death, he had been suffering complications from normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), an excess of cerebrospinal fluid that causes the ventricles in the brain to become enlarged. His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of many. But the memories that his family, his friends and his fans still carry can’t help but make one smile.

For those who’d like to take a walk down memory lane, here are nine facts about the beloved actor, writer, director and comedian that you may or may not know.

1. He Didn’t Always Want To Be In Show Business

Tim Conway was actually born Thomas Daniel Conway (though he later switched his first name to Tim in order to avoid being confused with actor Tom Conway). Though Conway says his fellow childhood classmates found him humorous because of the things he would say or do, seemingly out of context, Conway says his behavior was actually a result of undiagnosed dyslexia.

On an episode of “The Interviews: An Oral History of Television,” Conway reveals that what he really wanted was to be a jockey, despite being terrified of horses. Later in life, he became a fan of thoroughbred horse racing and an occasional racehorse owner.

2. He Eventually Broke Into Show Business Thanks To His Sense Of Humor

Conway served in the United States Army from 1956–1958, after which he found work at a local television station in Cleveland. But though Conway studied television and radio in college, and was even a disc jockey, he once joked that he was mostly unqualified for the work he managed to land for himself.

“I had no professional training,” he said on “The Interviews: An Oral History of Television.” “I had a sense of humor and had been in front of a microphone, but as far as doing movies or series work or anything like that, I had no idea.”

tim conway photo
Getty Images | Michael Caulfield

3. He Made His Mark On ‘McHale’s Navy’

Though Conway appeared on a number of television shows starting in the late ’50s, he first began to gain national attention through his role as Ensign Charles Parker on “McHale’s Navy,” a 1960s sitcom about the commander of a World War II PT boat and its quirky crew. The show aired for four seasons, from 1962–1966, and put Conway’s comedic stylings on the map.

His growing fame after his role on this show eventually led to numerous guest appearances on “The Carol Burnett Show” and, eventually, a regular role. In fact, he was the first person to be added to the permanent cast of Burnett’s show since it had begun eight seasons prior.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

4. His Mom Wasn’t Convinced

Despite his growing success, Conway’s mom worried about his job security and suggested he move back home to work at a hardware store.

“She said, ‘why don’t you come back and see if you qualify for that job?'” Conway told The Los Angeles Times. “I said to her, ‘have you been watching television for the past two or three years?'”

5. He Had His Own Shows… But They Didn’t Stick

His mom may have had cause for concern … at least before he landed his regular role on Burnett’s show. In 1970, “The Tim Conway Show” managed to last only half a year on CBS. He followed that up with “The Tim Conway Comedy Hour,” which lasted less than three months. But after he won the first of six Emmy awards in 1973 — thanks to guest appearances on “The Carol Burnett Show” — things began to turn around for him.

photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

6. He Kept Everyone On Their Toes

When he was on “The Carol Burnett Show,” Conway played a number of recurring characters, including The Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball. As familiar as these characters were, however, one could never quite predict what they might do at any given time.

In his interview with the Los Angeles Times, he admitted that though he performed his sketches as written during dress rehearsals, he ad-libbed them once the cameras were rolling, garnering laughs even from his scene partners, who had no idea what he might do next.

“I would save everything for the air show,” he said.

Here’s one clip of a sketch, posted on YouTube by user Eddie Gonzales, Sr. in which he took his co-star, Harvey Korman, by such surprise, the poor guy wet his pants laughing:

7. He’s Shown Up On Some Of Your Favorite Shows

Though Conway loomed large during the ’50s and ’60s, he continued to act steadily until 2016 — he’s appeared in some of the shows and films you know and love today. He made guest appearances on such shows as “Married… With Children,” “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and even “30 Rock.” He has also lent his voice to many animated shows, including “Spongebob Squarepants,” for which he voiced Barnacle Boy.

8. He Wasn’t A Fan Of Contemporary Comedy

In an interview with Bookish, when he was promoting his memoir “What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life,” he admitted that he was baffled by comedy today.

“There are very few funny people nowadays,” he said. “I don’t understand these young kids who go out and stand in front of people with the language they [use]. I don’t approve of that at all. Though I swear quite a bit — just with my children at home. But the punchline of a joke is not a swear word, in my book.”

9. He Leaves Behind A Sizable Family

Conway was married twice. He had six children with his first wife, Mary Anne Dalton. He later married Charlene Fusco, who already had a daughter from a previous marriage. He was with Fusco for 35 years. Conway is survived by Fusco, his stepdaughter, his six biological children and two granddaughters.

Our condolences to all of them.