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Joey Bishop, last of the Rat Pack, dies

19 October 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Joey Bishop, the comedian and actor who was the last surviving member of the Rat Pack, has died. He was 89.

Bishop had been ill for several months and died Wednesday night of multiple causes at his home in Newport Beach, Calif.

The Rat Packers became a show business sensation in the late 1960s when they appeared together at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in shows that combined music and comedy in a seemingly chaotic manner. Among its members -- Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford -- Bishop had the lowest profile. Yet Sinatra called him "the Hub of the Big Wheel," recognizing that Bishop often was the originator of the group's comic material.

Bishop's role in their boozing/gambling/womanizing antics was that of comic straight man. Belying his Rat Pack notoriety, Bishop was honored with a citation from Pope John XXIII for his assistance with the Boys' Towns of Italy.

"He was the perfect match for the Rat Pack. He fit right in like an old shoe," Hollywood honorary mayor Johnny Grant said Thursday.

Bishop also was a popular regular on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Known for his dour expression and self-deprecating shtick, Bishop's persona was of a befuddled and overwhelmed average Joe. Mumbling "son of a gun" was his signature response to life's overwhelming circumstances.

Bishop guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 177 times, more than anyone else. From 1967-69, Bishop hosted his own eponymous late-night show, which competed against "Tonight". Featuring an endless parade of Borscht Belt comedians, as well as infrequent visits from his Rat Pack buddies, the show floundered. After two years of struggling in head-to-head competition with Carson, Bishop was succeeded by Dick Cavett, a futile attempt to flank Carson with a "brainy" demographic.

"It was the thrill of my life to be chosen by Joey as the announcer for his talk show on ABC back in the '60s," Regis Philbin said Thursday. »

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