Why Tommy Cooper had the most tragic celebrity death
Thomas Frederick Cooper was a Welsh magician and prop comedian from the 1940s to the 1980s. It was in the mid-1970s that he rose to prominence as one of the most recognized comedians in the world. His red fez hat had people grinning from ear to ear as soon as he walked on stage. He would not even have started his comedic set yet, and the crowd would already be enchanted.
Cooper was a much loved comedian around the world, but some of his coworkers called him the tightest man in show business, referring to his extreme frugality. One of Cooper’s favorite gags was to pay the taxi fare exactly to the cent and then say “Have a drink on me,” as he slipped something into the taxi person’s pocket.
The person driving the taxi would surely be surprised when they found what Cooper had given them was actually a tea bag instead of money. Even in his more negative traits, Cooper was able to find a thread of humor.
Tommy Cooper’s on-screen death
Cooper’s bit was to act like somewhat of a bumbling fool. At a towering 6’ 5” Cooper was a hilarious sight to see. It was largely gag humor and when Cooper fell to the floor while on the variety show Live From Her Majesty’s, everyone thought it was part of the show. It wasn’t until Cooper remained frozen on his haunches on stage that part of the crew began to figure out something was wrong.
The production painter at the time, Joe Kerr, said in an interview, “He did different things sometimes and would change things. Then he went down and stayed down and I thought ‘oh my god, what’s going on here?”
Staff members tried to quickly pull Cooper through the curtain to the backstage area. With his considerable bulk, this was hard to do. They were in a frenzy for a bit as they searched for the next act to go on stage early. The audience had no idea what was going on. They still thought Cooper collapsing on stage was only part of his bit.
Many years later, the show’s host lamented, “God, that was the saddest night of my entire career,” as he thought back to that tragic night.
The staff attending to Cooper realized that he wasn’t breathing and started to administer CPR. They used torches to light the dim backstage area, but Cooper wasn’t responding.
Was Tommy Cooper’s death an expected one?
It was not until the next morning that the public realized what they had seen both live and on television had been the death of their prized comedian. Even most staff members thought that Cooper was okay and recuperating in his room, when really he had been carried away on a stretcher.
Cooper was declared dead on arrival at the local hospital. He was 69 when he died and news outlets soon let the public know what had happened.
Certainly, no one had expected Tommy Cooper to die that night on stage, but his coworkers had noticed Cooper seemed unusually frail that night. A makeshift dressing room was made just so he could gather himself before the show. As Cooper trotted out onto the stage no one expected him to die of heart failure.
Admittedly, Cooper hadn’t exactly been a healthy man. What many people didn’t know was that Cooper used booze to dull his stage fright for a long time. He was actually quite nervous performing in front of other people. When he no longer really needed the alcohol to get him through his performances, Cooper continued his frequent use nonetheless.
His wife, Gwen Cooper, suffered many of Cooper’s drunken moods. He even hit her in front of their two kids on one occasion. She left after that but eventually returned. Gwen was used to his drunken tirades, and even his affairs. Gwen said she once even witnessed Cooper pouring alcohol onto his cereal.
He protested it was the healthier option saying, “Well, milk is full of cholesterol!”
In addition to being a heavy drinker, Cooper was a heavy smoker as well. He’d smoke up to a whopping 40 cigars a day. In 1977, Cooper suffered a heart attack, but still continued to drink. Although the violence and affairs were over, he never took control of his health. His drinking continued to affect both his family and professional life. Sometimes Cooper would show up so drunk that he forgot his lines & messed up his act.
So, in a way, it should have been expected that Tommy Cooper was nearing collapse. His body had been heading there for a long time. That night in 1984 was a culmination of all his bad habits. It’s certainly very unfortunate that his demise happened on-screen. The Tommy Cooper Hour was Cooper’s hit show for those interested in seeing some of his work.