Joe Bologna: Cracking Jokes Till the Very End

Actor, writer and director passed away Sunday at age 82

Joe Bologna, Renee Taylor

A number of doctors were part of Joe Bologna’s final months on the West Coast: most notably Roger Lerner and David Hoffman from Cedars Sinai, and Vincent Chung and Stefanie Mooney at City of Hope. All worked together to prolong the life of their patient.

Bologna passed away Sunday morning, at age 82, from pancreatic cancer. Per his publicist Dick Guttman, here is one of the final moments he shared with friends and family in Duarte, Calif:

His longtime friend, Dr. Lerner, came to visit Joe late Saturday night at City of Hope, and asked Joe, who was going in and out of consciousness, if he was comfortable, Joe, the lighthearted-comedian-to-the-end, replied, “No, but I make a living.”

It was thanks to a personalized treatment and palliative care plan conceived by Chung and Mooney that Bologna was able to make it to a pair of crucial calendar dates in 2017: a 35th anniversary screening of the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, in which he played the Sid Caesar-inspired character King Kaiser, held July 27 at the Laemmle Theatre in Beverly Hills. And his 52nd wedding anniversary with the effervescent Renee Taylor.

When the couple wed in 1965, everything was paid for personally by talk show host Merv Griffin, who famously broadcast a wedding reception on his program from the Little Theatre on 44th Street in New York (now the Helen Hayes Theatre). Taylor was a frequent sketch-artist guest on Griffin’s show.

What a marriage the Bologna-Taylor union remained through the years. Here is the lede from a Nov. 8, 1982 People magazine article tied to the arrival in theaters of My Favorite Year:

Since Joe Bologna tied the knot with Renee Taylor in 1965, he’s been one half of the zaniest acting-writing team in show business. But their scripts can’t compare to their marriage. “We play togetherness games,” says Renee. “My favorite is when we pretend I’m not his wife and I’m meeting him for a love tryst in a hotel room.” Once Renee posed as a hooker trying to pick up Joe in the lobby of New York’s Plaza Hotel. When the house detectives escorted her outside, Joe played dumb, explaining, “How could I not? It’s like handing a comic a straight line without giving him the punch line. Besides, I was embarrassed.”

Fans will have a wonderful chance in the near future to remember Bologna’s talents anew. He wrote and co-starred in Tango Shalom, a comedy directed by son Gabriel and featuring a soundtrack overseen by daughter Zizi. The movie is currently in post-production. RIP.

P.S. The credits for the Aug. 11, 1965 episode of The Merv Griffin Show, which was relayed as the one featuring the Bologna-Taylor reception, do not list them as guests. The closest confirmation we could find, on the same site, is a note that the Aug. 16, 1965 episode of The Merv Griffin Show was the first appearance on the program of Taylor as Mrs. Joseph Bologna.

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