Harry Anderson, star of 'Night Court,' dies at 65

Harry Anderson, the magician-turned-comic-turned-actor best known for playing a lightly disguised version of himself as a judge on the TV sitcom "Night Court," was found dead Monday morning at his home in Asheville, North Carolina, police told NBC News.

Anderson was 65. The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but police said foul play wasn't suspected.

Harry Anderson
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Harry Anderson
CHEERS -- Pictured: Harry Anderson as Harry 'The Hat' Gittes -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
CHEERS -- Pictured: (l-r) Harry Anderson as Harry 'The Hat' Gittes, Nicholas Colasanto as Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso, George Wendt as Norm Peterson -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 14 -- Pictured: Special Guest Harry Anderson performs on February 25, 1984 (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 20 -- Pictured: (l-r) Harry Anderson and Leslie Pollack during a guest performance on May 13, 1983 -- Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
NIGHT COURT -- Pictured: (l-r) John Larroquette as Dan Fielding, Markie Post as Christine Sullivan, Richard Moll as Nostradamus 'Bull' Shannon, Harry Anderson as Judge Harry T. Stone, Charles Robinson as Mac Robinson, Marsha Warfield as Rosalind 'Roz' Russell -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - CIRCA 1985: Actors Harry Anderson and Richard Moll from the TV sitcom 'Night Court' attend a charity event in circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
circa 1985: Studio portrait of the cast of the television show, 'Night Court'. L-R clockwise from center: Harry Anderson (with mallet), John Larroquette, Marsha Warfield, Richard Moll, Charles Robinson, and Markie Post. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
NIGHT COURT -- 'World War III' Episode 21 -- Air Date 05/02/1985 -- Pictured: (l-r) Ellen Foley as Public Defender Billie Young, Harry Anderson as Judge Harold T. 'Harry' Stone, Yakov Smirnoff as Yakov Korolenko -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon and magician Harry Anderson during an interview with host Johnny Carson on November 14, 1990 -- (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Magician Harry Anderson during an interview with host Johnny Carson on November 14, 1990 -- (Photo by: Cheryl Balter/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Comedian Harry Anderson performing with Basoon on February 8th, 1990-- (Photo by:NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Magician Harry Anderson arrives on November 14, 1990 -- (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Anderson, who often said he was inspired to pursue magic by Harry Blackstone Sr., the famed stage magician of the last century, grew up in Southern California and began performing at clubs like Dante Magic Club and the Magic Castle while he was still in high school. His stage name was Harry the Hat for the fedora he habitually wore.

Anderson appeared numerous times on Johnny Carson's version of "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live" during the 1980s and soon became a recurring guest star on "Cheers," playing a swindler and grifter called, not surprisingly, Harry the Hat.



That led to his starring role beginning in 1984 on "Night Court," in which he played Harry Stone, a judge in New York's Criminal Court 2 who traded jokes with a naïve public defender played by Markie Post, a slimy prosecutor played by John Laroquette and three regular bailiffs (Selma Diamond, Richard Moll and Marsha Warfield). Occasionally, they tried a case or two.


Anderson was nominated for Emmy awards three times during the show's nine-season run. Harry the Hat, meanwhile, returned occasionally to "Cheers," explaining his extended absences with throwaway lines like "Two to 10, with time off for good behavior."

Anderson moved straight from "Night Court" to "Dave's World," playing Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for The Miami Herald. The series ran for four years on CBS.


Anderson made guest appearances on several TV shows and appeared in several pilots after "Dave's World" ended. He ran a magic shop and a nightclub in New Orleans before he and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Asheville in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina. He told The New York Times at the time that the depression that gripped the city after the hurricane had depressed both his audience and his outlook on life.

"I had more people in my car last night," The Times quoted him as telling his piano player during a performance.

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Jerry Van Dyke passed away in January 2018.
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Anderson had a devoted following among fellow performers. An early fan was the actor and writer Judd Apatow, who interviewed Anderson in 1983, before "Night Court" went on the air, for his book "Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy." He described Anderson as "this demented, semi-famous magician whom I happened to find hilarious."

Apatow said Monday on Twitter that Anderson was "a kind talent who made millions so happy."

J. Elvis Weinstein, a co-founder and star of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," called Anderson "one of the few guys to ever make my 'magicians I like' list."

For all his TV success, Anderson always remained a magician and illusionist at heart. In 1988, he was honored as Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts, which operates the Magic Castle, following in the footsteps of Blackstone, his idol.


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