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Charles Nelson Reilly dies at 76

Amazing — I used to come home from school every day and watch Match Game, and Charles Nelson Reilly’s queerness, bless him, was off the charts and it didn’t matter. Was this man ever in the closet? According to his Wikipedia entry he never mentioned being gay until the 90s, but he never attempted to hide the fact. His partner Patrick Hughes III, a set decorator, is mentioned in the AP story; unlike other obits (Luther Vandross, Susan Sontag) there isn’t even a feeble attempt to straightwash.

Charles Nelson Reilly, the Tony Award winner who later became known for his ribald appearances on the “Tonight Show” and various game shows, has died. He was 76.

Reilly died Friday in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia, his partner, Patrick Hughes, told the New York Times.

Reilly began his career in New York City, taking acting classes at a studio with Steve McQueen, Geraldine Page and Hal Holbrook. In 1962, he appeared on Broadway as Bud Frump in the original Broadway production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” The role won Reilly a Tony Award.

…He gained fame by becoming what he described as a “game show fixture” in the 1970s and 80s. He was a regular on programs like “Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares,” often wearing giant glasses and colorful suits with ascots.

From the NYT:

…Mr. Reilly’s openly gay persona was many years ahead of its time on television, and it had its risks. He recalled being dismissed early in his career by a network executive, who told him that “they don’t let queers on television.” Paul Linke, who directed the one-man show, said Mr. Reilly later had the last laugh when he would page through TV Guide and count how many times he was on the air that week.

So, who was more flamingly “out” at that time, Reilly or Paul Lynde, or the character Mr. Smith on Lost in Space?

Watch Charles Nelson Reilly spar with Gene Rayburn — and CNR takes over the mic. In the clip on the right, a 2002 reunion piece on The Early Show, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Betty White:


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding