Monday, May 28, 2007


I was saddened to hear the news that Charles Nelson Reilly has passed away.

Anyone who watched television in the 70s and 80s knew the raucous, outlandish, over-the-top persona which Reilly projected on various variety shows, talk shows, and game shows.

But few know that his first national exposure came as an Excedrin Headache. Back in the day, the Excedrin commercials featured some harried soul or other, explaining why they acquired "Excedrin Headache #23: The Belligerent Boss", or what have you. I was too young to remember the specifics of Reilly's Excedrin Headache, but the commercial brought him to Hollywood's attention, and led to his co-starring role on "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," playing the ghost's nephew Claymore. (Sandy Duncan also gained fame as an Excedrin Headache, but that is another posting.)

Charles had already gained theatrical fame, winning a Tony Award as Bud Frump in "How to Succeed in Business without really Trying." His follow-up role, as the original Cornelius Hackle in "Hello, Dolly!", was not a terrific fit. Even in the early 60s, who could really buy Charles Nelson Reilly as a romantic lead?

He spent only a few more years in New York before heading west to LA and sitcom fame.

Charles was reportedly a terrific acting coach, and was surely a fabulous stage director, to which I can attest. I saw his production of "Gin Game" starring Charles Durning and the legendary Julie Harris (he had directed her to a Tony in the one-woman starrer, "The Belle of Amherst"), and I can attest to the fact that he was a top-notch director. (Harris was one of Reilly's close friends, dating back to their appearance together in a flop Broadway musical, "Skyscraper.")

In the early 90s, his guest starring performance on "Designing Women," playing himself, was a real hoot. The ladies from Atlanta traveled to LA to recover Alison Sugarbaker's investment in an indie film, only to find that the flick, a tender Coming of Age story, had become a biker buddy movie full of women in bikinis. "They're very popular in Turkey at the moment," explains director Reilly.

It is one of the very few really funny episodes from the lone season in which Julia Duffy replaced Delta Burke, due largely to Reilly's performance.

Over the years, he received three Emmy nominations, and was nominated for a Best Directing Tony for "The Gin Game." He clearly loved stage work (in his early career, he understudied both Dick van Dyke and Paul Lynde in "Bye Bye Birdie"), and had returned to the stage in his one-man show "Save it for the Stage: The Life of Reilly," an examination of his life and career. The show is apparently a very true document of the real Charles Nelson Reilly, and was filmed. We can only hope that the film, currently making the rounds at various festivals, finds a distributor and can be seen by a wide audience.

Rest in Peace, Charles, and please know that you afforded us countless hours of hilarious fun.

1 comment:

rich said...

You can hear his Excedrin ad at, at 27 minutes into the 12/21/67 Al Risen aircheck. It's a subscription website, $12 a year, but well worth it.