Jackie Gleason — born Herbert Walton Gleason Jr. on February 26, 1916 in Bushwick, Brooklyn — was best known for his roles on The Honeymooners (as Ralph Kramden), The Life of Riley (Chester Riley) and The Jackie Gleason Show (Ralph Kramden/Reginald Van Gleason III/Joe the Bartender). Late in his life, fans were treated to his portrayal on the big screen of Burt Reynolds’ nemesis Sheriff Buford T Justice in all three Smokey and the Bandit movies.
Succeeding by glorious excess
Jackie Gleason: 1916-1987
They called him “the Great One,” a nickname that was as grandly excessive as the man himself. Jackie Gleason, who died last week [June 24, 1987] of cancer at 71, was a big drinker, a big spender and a big fellow (his weight at one time topped 280). Exuberant and gregarious, he addressed nearly everyone he met as “pal.”
During the 1950s and ’60s, he was one of the most popular and highest-paid stars on TV, yet his talent extended to Broadway (a Tony Award for the 1959 musical Take Me Along), movies (The Hustler, Soldier in the Rain) and pop-music composing and conducting.
“If I didn’t have an enormous ego,” he once said, “how in hell could I be a performer?”