Monday, November 22, 2010

Nov. 22: Scatman Crothers died on this date in 1986…

… he was 76 years-old when he passed away.

Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers was an actor, singer, dancer and musician known for his work as Louie the Garbage Man on the TV show Chico and the Man, and as Dick Hallorann in The Shining in 1980. He also appeared on Sanford and Son.

Crothers was also a prolific voice-over artist, and provided the voices of Meadowlark Lemon in the animated TV version of The Harlem Globetrotters, Jazz the Autobot in The Transformers, the title character in Hong Kong Phooey, and Scat Cat in the 1970 film The Aristocats.

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Crothers was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. He got the nickname Scatman when he auditioned for a radio show in 1932 at the former WSMK (now WING) in Dayton, Ohio. The director didn't think his given name was catchy enough, so Crothers quickly concocted the handle Scat Man, because of his scat singing. The nickname was changed to Scatman by Arthur Godfrey.

Crothers started his musical career as a 15-year-old drummer in a speakeasy band in his home town of Terre Haute. He played a variety of instruments, including drums and guitar, on jazz club band circuits in his early days as an entertainer. Among the people he performed for was notorious gangster, Al Capone.

Crothers formed his own band in the 1930s and traveled to Oakland California with the group in 1948. He moved to Los Angeles in 1952.

Crothers performed on piano and drums in several bands, most notably with bandleader Slim Gaillard. According to the jacket notes of the Let Freedom Sing CD set, Crothers was part of the music group The Ramparts who sang Bob Dylan's "The Death of Emmett Till.” The song was about the murder of 14-year old Emmett Till for allegedly sexually harassing a white woman at her place of employment while on a visit from Chicago to relatives in the segregated Deep South during the mid-1950s. He also recorded several solo albums and singles.

He worked in both the movies and television, often taking bit parts. Crothers made his official debut in the 1953 movie Meet Me at the Fair. He also made musical shorts and played drums with Slim Gaillard in the mid 1940s.

Good friends with Jack Nicholson, he appeared in four of his films: The King of Marvin Gardens, The Fortune, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Shining.

His later film appearances included the role of a wizened fable-telling convict in the extremely controversial Ralph Bakshi animated film Coonskin, as a train conductor in Silver Streak, as a liveryman in The Shootist, and as a ringmaster of a struggling wild west show in Bronco Billy. He also played a baseball coach and school teacher in Zapped!, an angel in Two of a Kind and  a magician in the guise of an old man in the "Kick the Can" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

During his appearance on Sanford and Son he joined Redd Foxx for two musical numbers. One of which was a memorable version of the standard "All of Me,” where he accompanied Foxx on ukulele.

Crothers was diagnosed with lung cancer late in 1985, but continued to perform. The cancer eventually spread to his esophagus; he ultimately succumbed to pneumonia on November 22, 1986 at his home in Van Nuys, California.


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