Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Hartford, Conn. Art Carney, who played Jackie Gleason's sewer worker pal Ed Norton in the TV classic "The Honeymooners" and went on to win the 1974 Oscar for best actor in "Harry and Tonto," has died at 85.
Carney died in Chester, Conn., on Sunday and was buried on Tuesday after a small, private funeral. He had been ill for some time.
The comic actor would be forever identified as Norton, Ralph Kramden's bowling buddy and not-too-bright upstairs neighbor on "The Honeymooners." The characters appeared in various forms from 1951 to 1956, and the show was revived briefly in 1971.
With his turned-up porkpie hat and unbuttoned vest over a white T-shirt, Carney's Ed Norton with his exuberant "Hey, Ralphie boy!" became an ideal foil for Gleason's blustery, bullying Kramden. Carney won three Emmys for his role and his first taste of fame.
"The first time I saw the guy act," Gleason once said, "I knew I would have to work twice as hard for my laughs. He was funny as hell."
In one episode, Norton and Ralph learn to golf from an instruction book. Told to "address the ball," Norton gives a wave of the hand and says, "Hellooooo, ball!"
After "The Honeymooners," Carney battled a drinking problem. His behavior became erratic while co-starring with Walter Matthau in the Broadway run of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" in the 1960s. He dropped out of the show and spent nearly half a year in a sanitarium.
His career resumed, and in 1974 he was cast in Paul Mazurksy's "Harry and Tonto" as a 72-year-old widower who travels from New York to Chicago with his pet cat.
Carney was born into an Irish-Catholic family in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 4, 1918, and baptized Arthur William Matthew Carney.
He was drafted into the Army in 1944 and took part in the D-Day landing at Normandy. A piece of shrapnel shattered his right leg. He was left with a leg three-quarters of an inch shorter than the other and a lifelong limp.