Tim Conway was a kind soul, with a gentle sense of humor. Maybe his faith played a role in that?

If you are of a certain age, then you know that there was a decade or two in which Tim Conway was the funniest man alive. If you looked into the details of his life and personality, then you knew that he was more than that.

Watching The Carol Burnett Show was one of the few pop-culture rituals in the Southern Baptist preacher’s home in which I grew up. Conway was the star of the show, as far as I was concerned. It was interesting, last week, to read the mainstream media obituaries and tributes that followed his death.

The key? It was all about the adjectives — “kind,” “gentle,” “loving,” “impish,” “humble,” etc. — as today’s reporters tried to hint at the style and content of the work done by this master of the semi-improvised variety show skit.

I kept looking for one more crucial word — “Catholic.” Check out the EWTN interview at the top of this post.

As you would expect, scribes made that connection in the Catholic press, but nowhere else that I could find. Here’s the faith-free opening of the tribute at The Hollywood Reporter. Maybe the angel reference in the lede is supposed to be a hint?

Tim Conway, the cherub-faced comedian who became a TV star for playing the bumbling Ensign Parker on McHale's Navy and for cracking up his helpless colleagues on camera on The Carol Burnett Show, has died. He was 85. 

A five-time Emmy Award winner, Conway died Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. at a health care facility in Los Angeles, his rep told The Hollywood Reporter. According to recent reports, he was suffering from dementia and unable to speak after undergoing brain surgery in September.

For four seasons beginning in October 1962, the impish actor provided the heart and a lion's share of the laughs on ABC's McHale's Navy as the sweet, befuddled second-in-command on a PT boat full of connivers and con men led by the show's title character, played by Ernest Borgnine.

When dealing with Hollywood royalty, what really matters is the obituary in The Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Burnett was featured right up top:

“I’m heartbroken,” Carol Burnett told The Times. … “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being,” she said. “I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”

When dealing with Hollywood royalty, what really matters is the obituary in The Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Burnett was featured right up top:

“I’m heartbroken,” Carol Burnett told The Times. … “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being,” she said. “I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”

Of course, other colleagues took their turn:

“Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable... all synonyms for Tim Conway,” fellow “Carol Burnett Show” alum Vicki Lawrence said in a statement Tuesday. “I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him. Harvey and Tim are together again...the angels are laughing out loud tonight.”

So what was the secret here? Perhaps it is a reflection of our current culture that the success of Conway and his partners in insanity needed to be attributed to — politics, or the lack thereof.

TConway-1.jpg

Here’s the take on that in the Times obit:

In 2013, he released “What's So Funny? My Hilarious Life,” which he co-wrote with Jane Scovell. The memoir was warm, witty and often laugh-out-loud funny, according to former Times staff writer Susan King.

Conway believed that “The Carol Burnett Show,” which reached No. 13 in the ratings, endured because it didn't offend anyone.

“All comedy is vicious anyway,” he told The Times in 1993, after the cast reunited for a special to mark the show’s 25th anniversary. “You are targeting somebody, but we almost always targeted ourselves. The audience kind of laughed at themselves through us. Carol never got into making barbs about politics. It was all just good fun.”

As you would expect, Conway’s book went a bit deeper than that when addressing the roots of his personality and talent.

The key word here is “thankful.” The Catholic blogger Deacon Greg Kandra — who worked as a CBS News producer for many years — pointed readers, in a post called “Tim Conway, Catholic” — toward this piece that noted another passage in that book:

… (W)hen Tim was already living in California, he visited a doctor due to back spasms. Tim was “dumbstruck” when the doctor told him his “spasms were a residual effect stemming from a broken vertebra.” Tim insisted he’d never broken a vertebra, so the doctor asked him if he ever had a sports injury. Tim told him about the football incident in high school.

The doctor replied, “You may not realize it, but you are one lucky man. Here’s what I think. Your vertebra probably was broken when you were hit, but when they picked you up and carried you to the locker room, your back got stretched out. I’d guess that the vertebra went back into place. The X-ray may not have shown anything at the time but, I assure you, you came very, very close to being permanently disabled. If they hadn’t moved you, it might have been a different story.”

That was a watershed moment for Tim, spiritually speaking. He writes, “Ever since that incident on the football field, which might have altered the course of my life, Jesus and I have stayed in constant touch. I never stop saying thank you.”

There’s more to the faith story than that, and Conway isn’t claiming that he is a saint, or something similar. The key is that the funny man saw this sense of fragility as a key part of who he was, as a man and as a performer. It led to gratitude, as well as joy.

This might have been worth a sentence of two in the major obits. You think?

Meanwhile, back to Conway doing that thing that he did.

FIRST IMAGE: Tim Conway loses the Emmy (video) for best male comedy performance.

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