From Love Boat to Will & Grace, the frequent Bob Newhart foil appeared
on dozens of TV's most popular series during his 50 year career
Los Angeles, CA - Tom Poston, the endearing comic actor best known for playing befuddled characters on such popular television shows as Mork and Mindy and Newhart, died Monday night at his Los Angeles home. He was 85.
Poston, who was married to the actress Suzanne Pleshette, passed away following a brief illness. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Poston caught the public’s eye in the 1950s when Steve Allen hired him to join a coterie of funnymen to conduct man-the-street interviews. Don Knotts was the ever-nervous Mr. Morrison, Louis Nye was the self-impressed Gordon Hathaway and Poston’s character was so flustered by the camera that he couldn’t remember who he was.
In 1959, he won a Primetime Emmy playing “The Man Who Can’t Remember His Name.” He would later earn four additional Emmy nominations for other roles.
In 1959, when Allen moved his show from New York to Los Angeles, Poston, who was performing on Broadway when Allen brought him to television, stayed behind. Eventually, however, he made the jump west and quickly racked up credits in both movies and TV series.
On Mork and Mindy, Poston played a heavy-drinking buffoon with an annoying dog. On Newhart, he co-starred as an incompetent handyman. Later on Newhart’s show Bob, he was the star’s dopey onetime college roommate.
Over the course of a career that spanned more than fifty years. Poston appeared on dozens of TV shows, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Defenders, Get Smart, The Bob Newhart Show, The Love Boat, St. Elsewhere, The Simpsons, Coach, Murphy Brown, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, Will & Grace, Just Shoot Me, That ’70s Show, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. He also spent ten years as a panelist on the popular game show To Tell the Truth.
He also appeared in such movies as Cold Turkey, Rabbit Test, Christmas With the Kranks, Beethoven’s 5th and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
He began as a stage performer, and made his Broadway debut in 1947, when he played five roles in Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Jose Ferrer. Other theater credits included Romanoff and Juliet and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Poston, who was married three times, had three children—daughter Francesca with first wife Jean Sullivan, and a son and daughter, Jason and Hudson, with second wife Kay Hudson. He and Pleshette had appeared together in the 1959 Broadway play The Golden Fleecing, and had a brief relationship before marrying other people. After both were widowed, they reunited in 2000 and married the following year.
Poston was born on October 17, 1921, in Columbus, Ohio. As a child, he moved several times as his father sought work during the Depression. In his teens, he made money as a boxer.
He spent two years at Bethany College, then enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew troops to the European war zone during World War II.
He became interested in performing after the war ended, when he read an interview with Charles Jehlinger, creative head of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and was inspired to sign up for a two-year course at the Academy.
He is survived by Pleshette and his three children.