Foster Brooks

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Foster Brooks, actor, newscaster and comedian: born Louisville, Kentucky 11 May 1912; married (two daughters); died Encino, California 20 December 2001.

A career change in his late fifties saw the American television newscaster Foster Brooks gain more widespread fame as a comedian and character actor. After Dean Martin spotted him performing a comedy act as a "lovable lush" – "the guy who knows he's had one cocktail too many but is trying hard not to let anybody else know it" – he became a favourite stand-up comic in Las Vegas.

His most memorable television role was as Miles Sternhagen in the fantasy comedy Mork & Mindy (1981). As the manager of a small television station, he gave Mindy McConnell odd-jobs and the chance to fill in on camera. When assigned to present a weather report, Mindy was persuaded by Mork – who had arrived on Earth from the planet Ork – to do an interplanetary version. A snowstorm prevented journalists from getting to the studio, so she ended up having to present the evening news, too. It was a disaster, until Mork came to the rescue with his own Orkan presentation.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1912, the son of a civil engineer who became the county sheriff, Brooks showed talent as an opera singer in childhood but after various jobs started a career in radio at the age of 21. After working as a newscaster and disc jockey in Louisville, Buffalo and Rochester, New York, he switched to television. As well as hosting the news, he interviewed visiting bowlers for a baseball programme.

In 1960, Brooks and his family moved to Los Angeles and he sought work as an actor. He began to get bit parts and took jobs delivering telephone books, acting as a courier for the Post Office and working as a guard at Dodger Stadium when work was slow.

Over the years, he guest-starred in such popular television series as Gunsmoke, Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, The High Chaparral, Here's Lucy, Murder, She Wrote and Cosby. But the silver-haired, bearded star made his biggest impression as a stand-up comedian after being invited to tell a few jokes to the crowd at a charity golf tournament in 1969. He had the idea of performing them as a drunk and then incorporated this in his act. When Perry Como saw it at a celebrity golf tournament he asked Brooks to open for him at the new Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. This led to Brooks's appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

The performer admitted that he himself had suffered a drink problem. He called himself a "weekend drinker" in his younger days but said he had stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes in the early 1960s, believing that this had helped him to find success in his new career.

He was a regular guest on television variety shows such as Dean Martin's Celebrity Roasts and The Real Tom Kennedy Show (1970), and a panellist on the missing-word game show Match Game PM (1975-82). He also enjoyed small parts in films such as Super Seal (1976), The Villain (1979), Cracking Up (1983), Oddballs (1984), Cannonball Run II (1984) and The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991).

Anthony Hayward

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