Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Eugoogly: Charles Nelson Reilly

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 30, 2007

Devoted husband, beloved Game Show panelist

If I had to make a Rob Gordon-style list of dream occupations, past and present, a surefire bet for my top five, if not my #1, would’ve been a panelist on the Match Game in the mid-late 70s. Preferably in the lower-right-hand slot, though I’d probably take bottom-left or top-left too. I watched a fairly distrubing number of hours of the show on GSN in high school, and it always looked like so much fun to be on (even though you would have to deal with Gene Rayburn, quite probably the creepiest game show host in history, which is really saying something). Panelists looked they were perpetually drunk, stoned, or just indifferent, and they spent twice as long bantering with Gene and each other than actually doing anything game show-related–something which the contestants really didn’t seem to mind so much.

And a lot of it had to do with a funny little man named Charles Nelson Reilly. Despite the show’s constantly rotating cast, Reilly, the perpetual top-right panelist for the majority of the show’s run, constantly outshone them all. Richard Dawson was more caustic, and Betty White had more game show prestige, but it was Reilly’s aloof charms, bone-dry wit and um, slightly outrageous wardrobe (my mental picture of CNR will always include at least the pipe and sailor’s hat) that really got the show’s chemistry going. Especially in his banter with similarly perpetual top-center panelist Brett Somers–the bickering between the two was the stuff of game show legend, and despite their bitchienss, the obvious closeness between the two was strangely touching as well.

And yeah, the guy was probablyy a gay icon of sorts as well. He didn’t actually come out until recently, but as he said himself, he never made too much of an effort to hide his homosexuality–it’s actually somewhat shocking to think today of how little fuss was made about his sexuality at the time, despite its slap-in-the-face obviousness (but then again, this was also the age that Elton John was arguably the country’s biggest pop star and Freddie Mercury possibly the biggest rock star–more innocent times, I suppose). In any event, Reilly was never half as obnoxious or grating as the time’s other super-fey game show regular, Paul Lynde. He was just a really likeable, hysterical guy, and in the 25 of years of mediocre game shows since his reign, I’ve never seen his equal.

He did some other stuff, too–most of which you can see detailed in this bizarrely overwrought tribute video set to “My Heart Will Go On”–but really, Reilly will always be synonymous with Match Game, and Match Game will always be synonymous with Reilly. He died last Friday from pneumonia complications, at the age of 76. I know I’ll be turning to GSN at least a few times this week in memoriam.

R.I.P. Charles Nelson Reilly, 1931-2007

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One Response to “Eugoogly: Charles Nelson Reilly”

  1. […] About four months ago, Charles Nelson Reilly died. And it was extremely sad for us classic game show devotees–the man was a legend, one of the all-time great game show panelists, and even if he hadn’t done much of anything in the last few decades, the world seemed slightly lesser without him in it. But now that longtime companion Brett Somers performed a similar shuffle off this mortal coil last Saturday, it doesn’t seem quite so sad anymore–it’s almost sort of relieving. […]

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