Comedian Gallagher, Known for Watermelon-Smashing Bit, Dies at 76

The comedian known as Gallagher, who earned '80s fame for his wild stand-up shows in which he smashed watermelons and other foods with a giant sledgehammer to spray the audience, died at 76 on Nov. 11, his longtime former manager told NBC News.

Born Leo Gallagher, the prop comic died of massive organ failure while in hospice care in the Palm Springs, California, area, according to his former manager, Craig Marquardo. Gallagher had been in ill health and had suffered multiple heart attacks over the years, according to Marquardo.

Gallagher was touring for nearly 40 years until the pandemic began in 2020.

He broke through in 1980 with his comedy special "An Uncensored Evening." It was the first stand-up special to ever air on cable television, according to his former manager. Gallagher did 12 other specials for Showtime over 27 years, second only to legendary comic George Carlin, as well as popular HBO specials.

Gallagher's signature was bashing a watermelon onstage wearing a black hat and wielding his "Sledge-O-Matic," sending bits flying into the seats to cheers from the audience. He became an '80s sensation on MTV thanks to his stand-up specials that aired during the channel's infancy.

Gallagher, 1993 (Everett Collection)
Gallagher, 1993 (Everett Collection)

He began a comedy career in the early 1970s that included appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

He later appeared on a Geico commercial in 2012, crushing watermelon parts all over a couple with his trademark sledgehammer. The tagline was that Geico customers would be "happier than Gallagher at a farmers market."

Gallagher is played by comedian Paul F. Tompkins in the new movie about another popular '80s comic, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story."

After he stopped touring, he spent time with his son, Barnaby, and daughter, Aimee, according to his former manager.

"While Gallagher had his detractors, he was an undeniable talent and an American success story," Marquardo said in a statement.

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