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Death of Tommy Cooper

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"Thank you, love." - Tommy Cooper (1984)

Tommy Cooper (19 March 1921 – 15 April 1984) was a British prop comedian and magician. As an entertainer, his appearance was large and lumbering at 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m), and he habitually wore a red fez when performing. He initially served in the British Army for seven years, before eventually developing his conjuring skills and becoming a member of The Magic Circle. Although he spent time on tour performing his magical act, which specialised on magic tricks that appeared to "fail", he rose to international prominence when his career moved into television, with programs for London Weekend Television and Thames Television.

By the end of the 1970s, Cooper slipped into heavy smoking and drinking, which affected his career and health, effectively ending offers to front new programmes and relegating him to performing as a guest star on other entertainment shows. Ill health eventually claimed his life when, on April 15, 1984, Cooper died from a heart attack during a performance on the variety show Live from Her Majesty's.

Background

On April 15, 1984, Cooper collapsed from a heart attack in front of millions of television viewers midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show Live from Her Majesty's, transmitted live from Her Majesty's Theatre in Westminster, London.

An assistant had helped him put on a cloak for his sketch, while host Jimmy Tarbuck was hiding behind the curtain waiting to pass him different props that he would then appear to pull from inside his gown. The assistant smiled at him as he slumped down, believing that it was part of the act. Likewise, the audience gave "uproarious" laughter as he fell backwards, gasping for air.

At this point, Alasdair MacMillan, the director of the television production, cued the orchestra to play music for an unscripted commercial break and Tarbuck's manager tried to pull Cooper back through the curtains.

It was decided to continue with the show. Dustin Gee and Les Dennis were the act that had to follow Cooper, and other stars proceeded to present their acts in the limited space in front of the stage. While the show continued efforts were being made backstage to revive Cooper, not made any easier by the darkness. It was not until a second commercial break that paramedics moved his body to Westminster Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His death was not officially reported until the next morning, although the incident was the leading item on the news program that followed the show. Cooper was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in London.

Aftermath & Legacy

Cooper's personal assistant and relationship Mary Fieldhouse wrote about him in her book For the Love of Tommy in 1986. There was also a VHS release titled A Tribute to Tommy Cooper the same year, twelve VHS/DVDs about him were later released until 2002. After his death, it appeared that Cooper had made ten records during his lifetime.

In 1995, rock band Reacharound released the album Who's Tommy Cooper?, which was named after the comedian after some of the band's fans had never heard of him.

A statue of Cooper was unveiled in his birthplace, Caerphilly, in 2008 by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is the patron of the Tommy Cooper Society. The statue, which cost £45,000, was sculpted by James Done. In 2009, for Red Nose Day, a charity Red Nose was put on the statue, but the nose was later stolen. Hip-hop duo Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip wrote the song "Tommy C", about Cooper's career and death, which appears on their 2008 album Angles.

In a 2005 poll, The Comedians' Comedian, comedians and comedy insiders voted Cooper the sixth greatest comedy act ever. He has been cited as an influence by Jason Manford and John Lydon. Jerome Flynn has toured with his own tribute show to Cooper called Just Like That.

In February 2007, The Independent reported that Andy Harries, a producer of The Queen, was working on a dramatisation of the last week of Tommy Cooper's life. Harries described Cooper's death as "extraordinary" in that the whole thing was broadcast live on national television. The film subsequently went into production over six years later as a television drama for ITV. From a screenplay by Simon Nye, Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This was directed by Benjamin Caron and the title role was played by David Threlfall. It was broadcast on April 21, 2014.

In 2014, with the support of The Tommy Cooper Estate and Cooper's daughter Victoria, a new tribute show, Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show, commemorating 30 years since the comedian's death, was produced by Hambledon Productions. The production moved to the Museum of Comedy in Bloomsbury, London from September 2014 and continues to tour extensively throughout the UK.

In May 2016, a blue plaque in memory of Cooper was unveiled at his former home in Barrowgate Road, Chiswick. In August it was announced that the Victoria and Albert Museum had acquired 116 boxes of Cooper's papers and props, including his "gag file", in which the museum said he had used a system to store his jokes alphabetically "with the meticulousness of an archivist".

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