Louie Anderson, comedian and ‘Baskets’ star, dies at 68

Emmy award winning comedian Louie Anderson, who starred as Zach Galifianakis’ mother in the FX series “Baskets,” has died. He was 68.

Anderson, known for his self-deprecating humor, died Friday in a Las Vegas hospital from lymphoma, his publicist, Glenn Schwartz, told Deadline.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Anderson was being treated for cancer in Las Vegas.

Anderson, who was popular with LGBTQ audiences, earned three Emmy nominations including a 2016 win for his performance opposite Galifianakis in “Baskets.” Anderson played Christine Baskets, the mother of twin sons played by Galifianakis, and based the character on his mother, Ora Zella Anderson.

FX released a statement Friday on Anderson’s passing.

“For four wonderful seasons, Louie graced us and fans of ‘Baskets’ with a bravura performance as Christine Baskets, for which he deservedly was recognized by his peers with the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. It was a risky role for him and he embraced it with a fearlessness and joy that demonstrated his brilliance as an artist.

“He truly cared about his craft and was a true professional in every sense. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and his ‘Baskets’ family – Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel and Martha Kelly and all the cast and crew. He will be missed by us all but never forgotten and always bring a smile to our faces.”

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The dark comedy-drama premiered Jan. 21, 2016, and was co-created by Louis C.K., Zach Galifianakis and Jonathan Krisel; who also was the showrunner and director. Galifianakis starred in the dual lead role as Chip Baskets, a failed professional clown in Paris, who becomes a local rodeo clown in Bakersfield, and his identical twin brother, Dale.

Anderson’s character, Christine, was Chip and Dale’s mother.

The series ended Aug. 22, 2019.

Louie Anderson Baskets

Louie Anderson portrayed Christine Baskets in the FX series “Baskets.” Photo: Ben Cohen/FX

Christine Baskets

Anderson had talked many times in his act and interviews about his complicated family. He grew up with an abusive alcoholic father, and a mother who tried to shield the kids from his behavior.

Anderson talked about his family in the backstage press room after his Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Emmy win.

“I had this family that propelled me into this business because of the chaos I was raised in. This is the outlet you have. I was lucky enough to find comedy,” Anderson told the media.

“I’m playing my mom. This is her award. I’m stealing every little nuance she had.”

He also talked about the part of Christine Baskets that is based on him.

“The part that is trying to make everything right,” Anderson told the backstage press. “The part in all of us who wants, if you have a chance, to do it again. If you have a chance to remake the egg rolls and have everybody be happy with them. If you have a chance to say to the people that you hurt, I’m sorry. If you have a chance to make all those wrongs right. If you have a chance to do a better job in the situation you are in or the relationship you are in, or the next one.”

Being blackmailed

Anderson was less public in talking about his personal life. But in 1997, Anderson was blackmailed by Richard John Gordon, 28, who demanded money from Anderson, threatening to tell the tabloids that Anderson reportedly sexually propositioned him at a Los Angeles-area casino.

Between 1997 and 1998, Anderson paid Gordon $100,000 in hush money, fearing the story would ruin his career, but when Gordon’s demands increased to $250,000 in 2000, Anderson’s lawyer contacted federal authorities, according to court records.

Gordon agreed to meet Anderson’s representative in Los Angeles at a Westside restaurant. Gordon was arrested after leading FBI agents on a high-speed chase along Santa Monica Boulevard.

Gordon pleaded guilty to blackmail and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, followed by three years of probation, for his attempt to extort money.

Growing up in Minnesota

Born in St. Paul, Minn., March 24, 1953, Louie Anderson grew up in a housing project with 10 siblings. His father was a cruel alcoholic and his mother tried to keep the family together.

Anderson wrote several books about his family dynamics, often praising his mother and acknowledging her imperfections. His books include “Dear Dad — Letters From An Adult Child,” “Good-bye Jumbo…Hello Cruel World,” “The F Word, How To Survive Your Family,” and his most recent, “Hey Mom,” published in 2018.

After graduating from high school, Anderson worked as a youth counselor and began performing stand-up at Minnesota comedy clubs, making self-deprecating jokes about his family and his weight.

He won the Midwest Comedy Competition in 1981, and that year’s host, veteran comic Henny Youngman, became his mentor.

Big break

Anderson’s big break happened when late-night king Johnny Carson invited the comedian to make his national television debut on the “The Tonight Show” in 1984. Carson enjoyed Anderson’s material so much that he invited Anderson back onstage to take a second bow and shook his hand.

At the time, and throughout his stand-up career, Anderson made his size part of the act. He poked fun at his weight: “I can’t stay long. I’m in between meals,” “I went shopping today. What’s this one-size-fits-all stuff?”

His humor also focused on his childhood in Minnesota. He was subtle with his delivery, and would give a wry glance to the audience.

After that appearance, Anderson’s career took off with numerous tours, cable specials, and Las Vegas bookings.

In 1995, Anderson created and produced the Saturday-morning animated series “Life with Louie.” He voiced the lead character, an 8-year-old version of himself.

It was based on Anderson’s childhood with 10 siblings, a sweet-hearted mother and a loud, war-crazed father. It also detailed how he was picked on for his weight, and how he used comedy to deal with the teasing.

The series was a 3-year hit on Fox, and Anderson won two Daytime Emmys for his performance.

Anderson was the initial host of the third revival of the game show “Family Feud” from 1999 to 2002.

Anderson continued touring the stand-up comedy circuit, and guest starred on several TV shows, including “Young Sheldon.”

Louie Anderson is survived by his two sisters, Lisa and Shanna Anderson.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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