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Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Comedian Nipsey Russell was known for funny poems

Los Angeles Times

Nipsey Russell, a stand-up comedian who became a national television personality through his frequent appearances on variety, talk and game shows, died Sunday in New York. He was 80.

According to WCBS-TV in New York, Mr. Russell's manager, Joseph Rapp, said the comedian died of cancer.

A witty raconteur, Mr. Russell delighted audiences with his funny but topical poems, which prompted "The Tonight Show" sidekick Ed McMahon to dub him "the poet laureate of television." Among them:

The opposite of pro is con;

That fact is clearly seen;

If progress means move forward,

Then what does Congress mean?

"I've always had the ability to manipulate words and communicate ideas and thoughts," Mr. Russell told the Philadelphia Tribune in 1997, adding that he earned a degree in English at the University of Cincinnati and originally planned to teach English.

Writing poems, Mr. Russell told the Los Angeles Times in 1993, "is very simple to do. ... I start with the joke line and write backward."

Mr. Russell made his breakthrough in the late 1950s with an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and a series of erudite, entertaining chats with Jack Paar on "The Tonight Show." He had a regular role in the 1961-63 television sitcom "Car 54, Where Are You?"

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Mr. Russell became a popular guest on such variety shows as "The Jackie Gleason Show," "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "The Dean Martin Show." He was a glib panelist on game shows including "To Tell the Truth" and "The Match Game."

In 1985, Mr. Russell became one of the first black game-show hosts with NBC's "Your Number's Up."

He also performed at Harlem's Apollo Theater.

Among his few movie roles, he made a memorable Tin Man in the 1978 film version of "The Wiz."

Mr. Russell also appeared in Broadway musicals including "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Hello Dolly!"

Mr. Russell, who was born in Atlanta, never married. "He always said, 'I have trouble living with myself; how could I live with anyone else?' " his manager said.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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