Beloved comedian Shelley Berman dies at age 92

Comedian Shelley Berman has died at the age of 92. Here he arrives at a reception for the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.   Matt Sayles    
  AP

Comedian Shelley Berman has died at the age of 92. Here he arrives at a reception for the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Matt Sayles AP

But loyal WNOP-AM listeners will remember the iconic 1960s comedian - who died Friday at 92 at his California home of complications from Alzheimer's - from the station identification spots he recorded for the Newport jazz station that aired bits from comedy albums. Through Martin Landau, Berman got a gig at Chicago's improvisational Compass Players group, working alongside Mike Nichols and Elaine May, where he began to develop his famous phone-call routines.

And while Berman didn't quite fit a specific category of comedy, he would go on to become one of the most successful stand-up comics in the 1950s and '60s, paving the way for others like Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld.

This ultimately resulted in Bearman making history after his first comedy album, "Inside Shelley Bearman", became the first non-musical recording to win a Grammy Award.

Berman, a Chicago native, received an Emmy nomination for his role as Nat.

At his peak, Berman was asked to participate in NBC's documentary-style show "Comedian Backstage", for which he was followed around as he prepared for a 1962 nightclub act. I was not, in the strict sense of the word, a comedian.

His career came to a halt in 2014, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, an illness that he and his family felt important to create awareness about.

"I'm not a stand-up comedian", Berman often insisted.

His other TV roles include Judge Robert Sanders on Boston Legal, as well as appearances on CSI: NY, Pushing Daisies, Hannah Montana, Entourage, Grey's Anatomy, Friends and L.A. Law.

For more than 20 years, Berman taught humor writing at USC. In it, his act was interrupted by a ringing phone, this in the days before cellphones, and he yelled "I'll pull the damn phones out of the wall" on camera, getting him a reputation as a troublemaker. In the introduction to his 2013 book of poetry, To Laughter With Questions, Berman writes, "I have always written".

Berman is survived by his wife, Sarah, to whom he was married for 70 years, as well as their daughter, Rachel, and two grandsons. Their son Joshua, died in the seventies of brain cancer, at the age of 12.

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