Charles Nelson Reilly, Tony-Winning How to Succeed Star, Is Dead at 76 | Playbill

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Obituaries Charles Nelson Reilly, Tony-Winning How to Succeed Star, Is Dead at 76 TV and Broadway musical star Charles Nelson Reilly — a Tony Award winner for his performance as Bud Frump in the original production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — died May 25 in Beverly Hills, CA. He was 76.
Charles Nelson Reilly
Charles Nelson Reilly

Mr. Reilly died from complications of pneumonia, according to The New York Times. Patrick Hughes, Reilly's partner and only immediate survivor, told the New York paper that the actor had been ill for over a year.

Mr. Reilly, who in his middle years became best known for his appearances and quick quips on such TV shows as "Match Game" and "Hollywood Squares," chronicled his adventures on stage and off in his one-man show Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. That title, the Times explains, came from the words his mother would often use to stop him from speaking: "Save it for the stage," mother would say to son.

Though known to the world as — along with Brett Somers and Richard Dawson — one of the resident cut-ups on the saucy and popular "Match Game," to theatregoers Mr. Reilly was an important supporting player in the Broadway musical theatre of the 1960s. He was educated at HB Studios by the legendary Uta Hagen alongside such acting legends as Steve McQueen, Jerry Stiller, Jason Robards and Jack Lemmon. He made his Broadway debut as Mr. Henkel in Bye, Bye, Birdie (where he met future "Match Game" host Gene Rayburn), was nominated for a Tony Award as the original Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly! and received the Tony for his performance as the original Bud Frump How To Succeed In Business.... In this last, as a sniveling, conniving embodiment of corporate nepotism, he sang about his devotion to the daily "Coffee Break" and plotted the downfall of hero J. Pierpont Finch.

His Broadway appearances also included Skyscraper, a failed musical starring Julie Harris, who would become a friend and frequent collaborator, God's Favorite and Charlotte.

Mr. Reilly — who often sported ascots and oversized glasses — also appeared on "The Tonight Show" (with Johnny Carson) nearly 100 times. In an interview for The Advocate in 2001 Mr. Reilly discussed the effect game shows had on his career: "You can't do anything else once you do game shows. You have no career." It was, perhaps, because of this that he turned to directing, and the second half of his career took place behind the scenes. His first Broadway directing assignment was The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris, who won a Tony for her performance. Harris and Reilly worked on over ten plays together, including The Gin Game. For that production, Mr. Reilly received a Tony nomination for Best Director of a Play; Ms. Harris was also Tony-nominated.

Belle of Amherst playwright Bill Luce told, "Charlie walked into my life like an old friend. When he and Julie Harris asked me to write The Belle of Amherst, it was for me the beginning of a lifetime miracle (Julie calls it a ride on a magic carpet). But I was unsure. 'I've never written for theatre,' I told them. 'Maybe I should take a course at UCLA.' 'Don't be silly,' Charles said, 'We know more than they do. We'll teach you.'

"A consummate teacher for writers, actors, singers and directors, Charles generated brilliant, highly original ideas as none other I'll ever meet. Rehearsals were enormous fun, and I looked forward to his suggestions for revisions. I trusted his intuition. Through the years Charles set me to work on many projects which he himself conceived and directed. I'm grateful for this and proud to have known such a wildly talented man."

Other Broadway directing credits included Paul Robeson with James Earl Jones, Break a Leg and The Nerd.

While his campy work on "Match Game" is still fondly remembered, Reilly was also a multiple Emmy nominee for his often comic work. His turn as Jose Chung on "The X-Files" garnered much attention and guest-spots on "Millennium" and "The Drew Carey Show" resulted in Emmy nominations. Emmy first nominated the actor for his performance in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" in 1968.

One of his last projects was directing a production of Harvey — starring Charles Durning and Joyce and Dick Van Patten — that played the Laguna Playhouse in summer 2003. The once-Broadway-bound production never made its way to New York.

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