Harry Anderson – the magician turned actor most famous for bringing disorder to the court as Judge Harold T. Stone through nine seasons of the classic NBC sitcom Night Court – has passed away at the age of 65 as reported by WSPA-TV. Anderson was reportedly discovered by police officers in his home in Asheville, North Carolina. No cause of death has been determined at this time, but foul play is not suspected.
Born in Newport, Rhode Island, a young Anderson had a colorful childhood. The son of a traveling salesman father and, in Anderson’s own words when asked about his mother, “a hustler,” Anderson was always on the move, having lived in over a dozen large cities by the time he was 16. Despite this, Anderson was an avid pupil and graduated as the valedictorian of the 1970 Class of North Hollywood High School. Yet Anderson sought his real education on the streets, developing a talent for magic and sleight-of-hand trickery.
This talent would win the attention of comedy club managers, where Anderson’s penchant for mixing comedy in with his tricks set him apart from other stage magicians. This earned Anderson a guest spot performing on Saturday Night Live, where Anderson claimed he was recognized by producer Les Charles as the guy who had once won $20 from him in a shell game in San Francisco. Charles, who was one of the co-creators of Cheers, offered Anderson a role basically playing himself, giving rise to the reoccurring character of con-artist Harry “The Hat” Gittes.
Anderson’s performance on Cheers led to him being cast in the role that made him famous. Strangely enough, despite the role of Judge Harry Stone seemingly being written for Anderson, producer Reinhold Weege claimed that he had written the role as a man named Harry who loved magic, Mel Torme music and 1940’s culture long before Anderson was approached about the part. Anderson also wrote five episodes of Night Court, in addition to directing two episodes.
After Night Court, Anderson went on to play the role of Dave Barry in the sitcom Dave’s World, based on the writings of the famous humorist. Anderson is also well-remembered for playing the role of Richie Tozier in the original 1990 mini-series based on Stephen King’s It and playing the role of Elwood P. Dowd in a 1996 remake of the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey.
Despite finding success in Hollywood, Anderson’s first love remained performing on stage. He largely retired from acting after a 2002 appearance on Son of the Beach, apart from an appearance playing himself in an episode of 30 Rock. He spent several years in New Orleans, where he operated a speakeasy called Oswald’s and a magic shop called Sideshow in The French Quarter. He relocated to Asheville following Hurricane Katrina, where he lived between tours.
Anderson is survived by his wife of 18 years, Elizabeth Morgan, and two children, Eva and Dashiell, from his previous marriage to magician Leslie Pollack.
REST IN PEACE HARRY ANDERSON: OCTOBER 14, 1952 – APRIL 16, 2018