LOS ANGELES - Harvey Korman, the tall, versatile comedian who won four Emmys for his outrageously funny contributions to "The Carol Burnett Show," and who played a conniving politician to hilarious effect in "Blazing Saddles," died yesterday. He was 81.
Korman died at UCLA Medical Center after suffering complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said. He had undergone several major operations.
"He was a brilliant comedian and a brilliant father," daughter Kate Korman said. "He had a very good sense of humor in real life. "
A natural second banana, Korman gained attention on "The Danny Kaye Show," appearing in skits with the star. He joined the show in its second season in 1964 and continued until it was canceled in 1967. That same year he became a cast member in the first season of "The Carol Burnett Show."
Burnett and Korman developed into the perfect pair with their burlesques of classic movies such as "Gone With the Wind" and soap operas like "As the World Turns" (their version was called "As the Stomach Turns").
Another recurring skit featured them as "Ed and Eunice," a staid married couple who were constantly at odds with the wife's mother (a young Vickie Lawrence in a gray wig). In "Old Folks at Home," they were a combative married couple bedeviled by Lawrence as Burnett's troublesome young sister.
Korman revealed the secret to the long-running show's success in a 2005 interview: "We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I've never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away."
Burnett was devastated by Korman's death, said her assistant, Angie Horejsi.
"She loved Harvey very much," Horejsi said.
After 10 successful seasons, Korman left Burnett's show in 1977 for his own series. Dick Van Dyke took his place, but the chemistry was lacking and the Burnett show was canceled two years later. "The Harvey Korman Show" also failed, as did other series starring the actor.
"It takes a certain type of person to be a television star," he said in that 2005 interview. "I didn't have whatever that is. I come across as kind of snobbish and maybe a little too bright. . . . Give me something bizarre to play or put me in a dress and I'm fine."
His most memorable film role was as the outlandish Hedley Lamarr (who was endlessly exasperated when people called him Hedy) in Mel Brooks' 1974 western satire, "Blazing Saddles."
"A world without Harvey Korman - it's a more serious world," Brooks said yesterday. "It was very dangerous for me to work with him, because if our eyes met we'd crash to the floor in comic ecstasy. It was comedy heaven to make Harvey Korman laugh."
He also appeared in the Brooks comedies "High Anxiety," "The History of the World Part I" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It," as well as two "Pink Panther" movies, "Trail of the Pink Panther" in 1982 and "Curse of the Pink Panther" in 1983.
Korman's other films included "Gypsy," "Huckleberry Finn" (as the King), "Herbie Goes Bananas" and "Bud and Lou" (as legendary straightman Bud Abbott to Buddy Hackett's Lou Costello).
Harvey Herschel Korman was born Feb. 15, 1927, in Chicago. He left college for service in the U.S. Navy, resuming his studies afterward at the Goodman School of Drama at the Chicago Art Institute. After four years, he decided to try New York.
He had no luck and after returning to Chicago, he decided to try Hollywood.