FILE - A Feb. 15, 1983 file photo shows comedian Tim Conway. Conway, the stellar second banana to Carol Burnett who won four Emmy Awards on her TV variety show, died Tuesday, May 14, 2019, after a long illness in Los Angeles, according to his publicist. He was 85.
Photo: AP Photo/WF, File
Photo: AP Photo/WF, File

Tim Conway dies at age 85: my 2008 interview; comments from Ernest Borgnine, Carol Burnett, Jack McBrayer

Originally posted Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Another legend from “The Carol Burnett Show” has died: Tim Conway at age 85. 

Before he passed, he suffered complications from Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), a brain disorder

Earlier this year, when I spoke with Carol Burnett, I did ask about Conway, aware he was ailing. “He’s hanging in there,” she said. “He’s a fighter. God, I love him so much.”

In my 2016 interview with Burnett, she said Conway was the most mischievous on the cast of her show, especially opposite Harvey Korman, who died in 2008. "Harvey was a patsy when it came to Conway," she said. "Conway would throw new lines at him all the time."

Conway would play it straight and say his exact lines during dress rehearsal, then go rogue during the real show. "A sketch that went four minutes during the dress would become 10 minutes by the second show," Burnett said. "Usually, we'd air the craziness from that second show."

The late Ernest Borgnine in 2009 told me how much he loved working with Conway on “McHale’s Navy” and “Spongebob Squarepants.”

"I love him,” Borgnine said to me. “I remember the first taping of 'McHale's Navy.' He's doing lines in the forward part of the boat. The boat suddenly stops. He kept going right over the bow into the water. The man will do anything for a laugh!"

Conway won an Emmy for his guest role on “30 Rock” in 2008 and I interviewed the Conyers native Jack McBrayer in 2013:

"We became buddies on set,” McBrayer said of Conway. “I have lunch with him every now and then. He'd tell me stories about Don Knotts. That's a great kick."

> RELATED: Reactions to the death of Tim Conway from social media

I also spoke with Conway himself in late 2008, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. Here is the story that ran in the AJC in December of that year:

While Tim Conway is best known for his physical and verbal humor on "The Carol Burnett Show," he was also an integral part of those goofy live-action Disney films of yore such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang," "The World's Greatest Athlete" and "The Shaggy D.A."

These are hardly "Bambi" or "Beauty and the Beast" in terms of "classic" and are seldom seen on TV nowadays. But Turner Classic Movies has been bringing back 25 Disney live-action films this month, including "Old Yeller," "Swiss Family Robinson" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." 

On Sunday, TCM is airing a documentary on the Disney films narrated by Angela Lansbury and featuring commentary from the likes of Dick Van Dyke, Kurt Russell and Conway.

We spoke with Conway this week:

Q: Happy birthday a bit early. (His 75th birthday is Monday.) What plans do you have that day?

A: Well, probably just getting a cleaning at the dentist. That's it for me. I don't make so much about birthdays, especially when you get up to 75. Who would have thought I'd make it to 75? Certainly, not me! I don't try to do too much at this age. It's too exciting for me.

Q: Did you ever spend much time in Atlanta?

A: I shot a couple of independent films there: "The Prize Fighter" (1979) and "Private Eyes" (1981) with Don Knotts. It's such an interesting city. At the time, the Underground was quite active. The weather is great. You get away from Hollywood, you can do what you want. It was fun.

Q: What was it like working with Don Knotts on those films?

A: The best! I had been a big fan of Don Knotts since "The Tonight Show With Steve Allen." Don and I became best friends for 40 years. I admired him so much for his comedy, how subtle he was with his comedy. So I wrote a couple of films for us. We had the same philosophy in entertainment: try to do it in a way the entire family could enjoy. Do something we would never have to apologize for unless it was just bad comedy --- not for foul language or nudity or violence. We had enough of that at home!

Q: I'm sorry about Harvey Korman (his castmate on "The Carol Burnett Show," who passed in May, 2008). 

A: I am, too. We had 45 years together. It was great working with Harvey. I'd write things one way and say something else on the show. That's why he used to go south all the time on the sketches. It was fun to break him up.

Q: Did he make you laugh, too?

A: Oh, yeah! I think looking at him laughing at me made me laugh. When we did the dentist's sketch, we'd end up in hysterics.

Q: How did you end up getting that gig on "30 Rock"? (He played a politically incorrect old actor visiting the "30 Rock" set in an episode that aired in April.)

A: Tina Fey called me! I read it and said, "Gee, there isn't much here." She said, "Please, come and do it." I did and won an Emmy. That's how much I know!

Q: Did you enjoy working with Jack McBrayer (who plays Kenny and used to live in Conyers)?

A: He will be a big part of the business. He's such a nice guy, and he's a funny, funny guy. He presented the Emmy to me. I got mine the week before (when all the awards not presented during prime time are handed out). We'd been there five hours, and it was the last award. Before Jack had a chance to announce the nominees, I went up on stage. I stood next to him. He said, "Wait a minute! You haven't won! I'm just announcing names!" "Yeah, but if I do win, I'll already be here, and you wouldn't have wasted time." He then read the names, took the envelope and said "Tim Conway!" I took the Emmy, thanked everyone and walked off!

30 ROCK -- "Subway Hero" Episode 211 -- Air Date 05/01/2008 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tim Conway as Bucky Bright, Jack McBrayer as Kenneth Parcell (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Photo: NBC/NBC via Getty Images

Q: Are you still doing "SpongeBob"? (He does the voice of Barnacle Boy opposite his former "McHale's Navy" cohort Ernest Borgnine, who does Mermaid Man.)

A: Yes. That's fun to do. Ernie and I still get to work together every once in a while. I'm seeing him next Wednesday to do a few more episodes. He'll come up and give me a bear hug, break a couple of ribs. We'll do our show, I go to the hospital and then get repaired for the next round.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
X