Gallagher, watermelon crushing comic, has died at 76

Rodney Ho
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gallagher, the prop comic known for his “Sledge-O-Matic” routine smashing watermelons, has died at age 76, according to TMZ.

The manager for the comic told TMZ that Gallagher died while under hospice care in the Palm Springs area early Friday morning after massive organ failure. He had been in poor health for a while, suffering numerous heart attacks over the years.

Gallagher, whose full name is Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr., got his big break on “The Tonight Show” in 1975, accelerating his career into the 1980s. Over the years, he aired multiple comedy specials on HBO and Showtime.

Gallagher is seen leaving the Howard Stern Show on Aug. 29, 2000.

His signature prop was a big mallet. He’d smash different fruit while draping audience members in the front rows in tarp to protect them from the juice. The final fruit would always be a watermelon. It was a play off the popular late-night “Veg-O-Matic” commercials.

I interviewed Gallagher twice over the years.

The first time in 2008, he was promoting five shows at the Punchline comedy club, which was in Sandy Springs at the time. He acknowledged that at that point, his career was waning.

“I’m working my way down,” Gallagher said from Los Angeles, sounding a wee grouchy. “I enjoy what I do. I think people value it. I will continue to do it even though I don’t need to. And as my popularity has waned, I’m lucky I get to perform anywhere, so I don’t care!”

He added: “I draw a lot of stupid people and some smart people. It’s my fault. I’m stupid and smart at the same time. It’s stupid to smash stuff, but I talk smart.”

Chris DiPetta, who was managing the Punchline in 2008, agreed: “The Sledge-O-Matic stuff overtook what Gallagher was. His stand-up is actually very heady and brilliant.”

Jerry Farber, a legendary local comic, said “he’s like a throwback to the Three Stooges and Marx Brothers. I just loved the commotion. There’s such a heartbeat to his show.”

The last time Gallagher did a show in Atlanta was at the Variety Playhouse in 2015, teaming up with fellow comics Bob Nelson and Artie Fletcher.

His confidence in his own comedic skills at the time had not diminished: “Nobody has the gonads to do this. I’m old. It doesn’t matter! I’ve been a living legend. I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”

Twice, he said, he’s had heart attacks on stage. He said he wouldn’t mind if he keeled over performing. “That’s why I tell people to come to the show,” Gallagher said, half seriously. “I’m alive. Catch me now!”

Gallagher said he was a long-time pot smoker: “I’m a lot more fun stoned.”

In the 1990s, Gallagher allowed his brother Ron to imitate his act as Gallagher Two but became offended when Ron began stealing his identity. He sued him and won.

“He’s an idiot,” Gallagher said. “I’m not going to talk to him. I have millions of fans, people who love me all around the world. I don’t need family!”

In 2015, he was also a big fan of politically incorrect humor and embraced Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

“He’s giving me a lot of cover,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “I used to get in trouble for what I say. He’s worse! He’s terrible. I don’t say anything compared to Donald Trump!”