NEW YORK - Jackie Mason, a rabbi-turned-comedian whose feisty brand of standup comedy led him to Catskills nightclubs, West Coast talk shows and Broadway stages, has died. He was 93.
Mason died Saturday at 6 p.m. ET at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after being hospitalized for over two weeks, the celebrity lawyer Raoul Felder told The Associated Press.
The irascible Mason was known for his sharp wit and piercing social commentary, often about being Jewish, men and women and his own inadequacies. His typical style was amused outrage.
"Eighty percent of married men cheat in America. The rest cheat in Europe," he once joked. Another Mason line was: "Politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows, marriage does." About himself, he once said: "I was so self-conscious, every time football players went into a huddle; I thought they were talking about me."
His death was mourned far and wide, from fellow comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who called him "one of the best," to Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity, who hailed Mason as "irreverent, iconoclastic, funny, smart and a great American patriot."
Mason was born Jacob Maza, the son of a rabbi. His three brothers became rabbis. So did Mason, who at one time had congregations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Comedy eventually proved to be a more persistent calling than God.
"A person has to feel emotionally barren or empty or frustrated in order to become a comedian," he told The Associated Press in 1987. "I don’t think people who feel comfortable or happy are motivated to become comedians. You’re searching for something and you’re willing to pay a high price to get that attention."
Mason started in show business as a social director at a resort in the Catskills. He was the guy who got everybody up to play Simon Says, quiz games or shuffleboard. He told jokes, too. After one season, he was playing clubs throughout the Catskills for better money.
"Nobody else knew me, but in the mountains, I was a hit," Mason recalled.
In 1961, the pint-sized comic got a big break, an appearance on Steve Allen’s weekly television variety show. His success brought him to "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other programs.
He was banned for two years from the "Sullivan" show when he allegedly gave the host the finger when Sullivan signaled to him to wrap up his act during an appearance on Oct. 18, 1964.
Mason’s act even carried him to Broadway, where he put on several one-man shows, including "Freshly Squeezed" in 2005, "Love Thy Neighbor" in 1996 and "The World According to Me" in 1988, for which he received a special Tony Award.
"I feel like Ronald Reagan tonight," Mason joked on Tony night. "He was an actor all his life, knew nothing about politics and became president of the United States. I’m an ex-rabbi who knew nothing about acting and I’m getting a Tony Award."