Comedian Foster Brooks was a one-time television newscaster who became an "overnight
success" at 59 after creating a comic drunk act that made him a favorite
in Las Vegas showrooms and on television variety shows. Brooks, at the age of
89, died December 20, 2001 of natural causes at home in Encino.
The comedian—who played the guy who knows he's had one cocktail too many
but is trying hard not to let anybody else know it—is best remembered for
his frequent appearances on "Dean Martin's Celebrity Roasts," where
he would be introduced as a "friend" of the celebrity honoree. When
Brooks appeared on the Bill Cosby variety show in 1972 as a CBS vice president
who had had one too many, Times reviewer Cecil Smith reported that Brooks was
the talk of the town. "It was the funniest drunk act I ever saw, maybe the
funniest anyone ever saw," Smith wrote.
The silver-haired, bearded Brooks was so good at acting inebriated on stage that
few fans and interviewers could resist asking him if personal experience had
contributed to his getting the character down so well. "He'd tell them it
did," said Brooks' daughter, Teri Elmendorf of Villa Park.
When he was a younger man, she said, he was a weekend drinker. But in the early
1960s, she said, "he just one day cold-turkey stopped drinking and smoking.
He always said if he hadn't done that, he wouldn't have made it” in show
As Brooks told The Times in 1972, "I never drew a sober breath from Friday
night to Monday. Eight years ago, I quit. Fellow made me a $10 bet I couldn’t
quit, and I haven't had a drink since. At the time I needed the $10."
Elmendorf said recovering alcoholics often approached her father and told him
that his drunk portrayal "gave them the laughter they needed to get through
their recovery." And, she said, "he actually became national spokesperson
for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and did public service announcements in many
Born in Louisville, Ky., in 1912, Brooks was one of eight sons whose father was
a civil engineer for the city and later county sheriff.
Blessed with an operatic voice, Brooks began singing at weddings and on local
radio at 12. He dropped out of school after completing the sixth grade, and held
a variety of odd jobs until he was 21 and began a career in radio.
He worked as a newscaster and disc jockey first in Louisville and then in Buffalo
and Rochester, N.Y. In the early 1950s he switched from radio to television,
serving as a newscaster and hosting a 15-minute program on which he interviewed
professional bowlers who came to town.
In 1960, Brooks moved his family to Los Angeles to become an actor. It was tough
going. Between bit parts on TV shows such as "Bewitched" and "The
Munsters," he got odd jobs delivering phone books or picking up packages
at the post office at Christmas. He also worked as a guard at Dodger Stadium.
About 1969, Brooks attended a charity golf tournament with friend and game show
host Dennis James, who told him he would pay Brooks $50 if he would tell a few
jokes to the crowd.
" He had no thought of doing it as a drunk until he was on his way up to
the stage," said Elmendorf. Brooks later recalled that, while walking to
the stage, he remembered the times his father entertained him and his seven brothers
in the kitchen by playing a lush.
" I thought to myself, 'I wonder what these people would think if I'd make
'em think I'd been drinking?' " The improvised drunk act went over so well,
Elmendorf said, that "he never told a joke without acting like he was drunk
Later, singer Perry Como saw Brooks perform at a celebrity golf tournament and
asked him to be his opening act at the debut of the new Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas.
When hotel management balked at having the unknown Brooks open for Como, the
singer said that if Brooks didn't appear, neither would he.
The Hilton engagement opened the doors for Brooks, who made his national debut
on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
In addition to Elmendorf, Brooks is survived by Teri Brooks, his wife of 51 years;
daughter Scotti Brooks of Encino; and three grandchildren.