For other people named Charles Reilly, see Charles Reilly (disambiguation).

Charles Nelson Reilly (January 13, 1931 – May 25, 2007) was an American actor, comedian, director and drama teacher known for his comedic roles in theater, movies, children's television, animated cartoons, and as a panelist on the game show Match Game.


Reilly was born in The Bronx, New York City, the son of Charles Joseph Reilly, an Irish Catholic commercial artist, and Signe Elvera Nelson, a Swedish Lutheran.[1][2] When young he would often make his own puppet theater to amuse himself. His mother, foreshadowing his future as an entertainer, often would tell him to "save it for the stage." At age 13, he escaped the Hartford Circus Fire[3] where over a hundred people died, and as a result, he never sat in an audience again through the remainder of his life.[4]

As a boy, Reilly developed a love for opera and desired to become an opera singer. He entered the Hartt School of Music as a voice major but eventually abandoned this pursuit when he came to the realization that he lacked the needed natural vocal talent to have a major career. However, opera remained a life-long passion and after he achieved celebrity he was a frequent guest on opera-themed radio programs, including the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. He also directed opera productions for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Portland Opera, San Diego Opera, and Santa Fe Opera among others. He was also good friends with opera singers Renée Fleming, Rod Gilfry, Roberta Peters, and Eileen Farrell.[5]


Reilly made his first motion-picture appearance in 1957, playing an uncredited role in A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan. Most of his work during this period was on the stage. Reilly appeared in many Off-Broadway productions. His big theatrical break came in 1960 with the enormously successful original Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie. In the ground-breaking musical, Reilly had a small onstage part, and was the standby for Dick Van Dyke in the leading role of Albert Peterson. In 1961, Reilly was in the original cast of another big Broadway hit, the Pulitzer prize-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. For his memorable origination of the role of Bud Frump ("Coffee Break"), Reilly earned a 1962 Tony Award for featured actor in a musical. In 1964, Reilly was featured in the original cast of yet another giant Broadway success, Hello, Dolly! For originating the role of Cornelius Hackl, Reilly received a second nomination for a Tony Award for performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.

While he kept active in Broadway shows, Reilly would soon become better known for his TV work. Reilly appeared regularly on television in the 1960s. For example, he did stints both as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests and as a panelist on the popular Sunday Night CBS-TV program. In 1965, he made regular appearances on The Steve Lawrence Show, which aired for a single season. From 1968 to 1970, he appeared as uptight Claymore Gregg on the television series The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, which also starred Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. In one episode, Reilly was reunited with his Hello, Dolly! original Broadway castmate Eileen Brennan.

In 1971, he appeared as the evil magician Hoodoo in Lidsville, a psychedelically flavored live-action children's program produced by Sid and Marty Krofft that aired on Saturday mornings on ABC. The show was about a boy who falls into a magician's hat and enters a magical world of hat-humans. It is through these roles, as well as his playing the titular role in Uncle Croc's Block and appearing once on Walt Disney's The Mouse Factory, that Reilly's voice and mannerisms were embedded in a generation of young fanatics.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Reilly also appeared as a regular on The Dean Martin Show, and had multiple guest appearances on television series including McMillan & Wife; Here's Lucy; Laugh In; The Love Boat; and Love, American Style. Commercials he made throughout the 1960s and 1970s included Excedrin and Bic Banana Ink Crayons.

He was also a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, appearing more than one hundred times. Because Reilly was such a lively and reliable talk-show guest and lived within blocks of the Burbank studios where The Tonight Show was taped, he was often asked to be a last-minute replacement for scheduled guests who did not make it to the studio in time. During this time, Reilly was perhaps best known as a fixture of game shows, primarily due to his appearances as a regular panelist on the television game show Match Game. Reilly was one of the longest-running guests, and often engaged in petty, hilarious arguments with fellow regular Brett Somers (the two generally sat next to each other on the show, Somers in the upper middle seat and Reilly in the upper right-hand seat). Reilly typically offered sardonic commentary and peppered his answers with homosexually themed double entendres that pushed the boundaries of 1970s television standards.

From 1975 to 1976, Reilly starred in another live-action children's program called Uncle Croc's Block with Jonathan Harris. Reilly was often a guest celebrity in the 1984 game show Body Language, including one week with Lucille Ball and another week with Audrey Landers.

From 1980, Reilly was primarily active teaching acting and directing for television and theater. He directed episodes of Evening Shade in 1990 and earned a 1997 Tony Award nomination as Best Director of a Play for working with longtime pal Julie Harris, opposite whom he had acted in Skyscraper, and whom he had also directed in The Belle of Amherst and a revival of The Gin Game.

Reilly was a longtime teacher of acting at HB Studio, the acting studio founded by Herbert Berghof and made famous by Berghof and his wife, the renowned stage actress Uta Hagen. Reilly's acting students included Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler, and Gary Burghoff.

In the 1990s, Reilly made guest appearances on The Drew Carey Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Family Matters, Second Noah, and as eccentric writer Jose Chung in the television series The X-Files ("Jose Chung's From Outer Space"), Millennium ("Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense") and occasionally as the voice of "The Dirty Bubble" on the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants before that character was taken over by Tom Kenny.

Reilly was nominated for Emmy Awards in 1998 and 1999 for his performances in The Drew Carey Show and Millennium, respectively.

Personal life

Reilly did not publicly proclaim his sexuality until his one-man show Save It for the Stage. However, much like fellow game-show regular Paul Lynde of the same era, Reilly played up a campy on-screen persona. In many episodes of Match Game, he would lampoon himself by briefly affecting a deep voice and the nickname "Chuck", and self-consciously describing how "butch" he was. He mentioned in a 2002 interview with Entertainment Tonight that he felt no need to note this and that he never purposely hid being gay from anyone.

Patrick Hughes III, a set decorator and dresser, was Reilly's domestic partner; the two met backstage while Reilly was appearing on the game show Battlestars. They lived in Beverly Hills.[6]

Final years and death

The final years of Reilly's life were primarily spent touring the country directing theater and opera, and offering audiences a glimpse into his background and personal life with a critically acclaimed one-man play chronicling his life called Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. In 2004 his final performance of the play was filmed as the basis for an autobiographical independent film titled The Life of Reilly [7]

Reilly was ill with respiratory problems during the filming of The Life of Reilly and retired from directing and performing immediately after the final day of shooting.

The Life of Reilly was premiered in March 2006 at the South by Southwest film festival and Reilly's performance in the film received great acclaim. Reilly canceled his personal appearance at South by Southwest due to illness and by the time the film premiered he had been hospitalized.

On May 25, 2007, Reilly died at his home of complications from pneumonia. His remains were cremated.[8]

After his death, Game Show Network dedicated the weekend to Reilly, airing Reilly's funniest episodes of The Match Game.





In popular culture

"Weird Al" Yankovic wrote and recorded a tribute song entitled "CNR", jokingly caricaturing Reilly as if he were a hero in a tall tale, with absurdities like standing 8 feet tall, eating entire vehicles and shooting lasers out of his eyes. This was part of Yankovic's digital Internet Leaks EP. The music video was released by JibJab on August 4, 2009.[9]

In 1985, The Dead Milkmen, a Philadelphia punk band, wrote a song about Charles Nelson Reilly called Serrated Edge.

Reilly was the subject of a sketch on Saturday Night Live spoofing Inside the Actor's Studio, and was portrayed by Alec Baldwin.


  1. Richard Connema. "Charles Nelson Reilly Is a One Man Show". Talkin' Broadway. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  2. "Charles Nelson Reilly Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  3. Steven Oxman (July 14, 2000). "Save It for the Stage!: The Life of Reilly". Variety. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  4. Dinner for Five, episode #3.9 (June 4, 2004).
  5. "Obituaries: Director, actor and opera-lover Charles Nelson Reilly; baritone Wojciech Drabowicz". Opera News. August 2007, vol 72, no. 2.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Tina Gianoulis (2006). "Reilly, Charles Nelson (b. 1931)". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  7. The Life of Reilly
  8. McGeehan, Patrick (May 28, 2007). "Charles Nelson Reilly, Tony-Winning Comic Actor, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  9. Official YouTube Channel for

External links

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  1. REDIRECT Template:TonyAward MusicalFeaturedActor 1947–1975
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