A Comedy Legend Passes

Wednesday May 30th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   A truly legendary figure within the standup comedy world has died, and it saddens me deeply as I knew him quite well. John Fox had colon cancer and passed away in hospice care at age 55 in California. The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around way too easily, but John Fox was a big one.

I wish I could say all the stories surrounding him were uplifting and inspiring, but that’s not the case at all unfortunately. I personally got along with him extremely well, and have memories that are still pleasant. He was a very warm person from my experience but fought a flock of demons.

Every road comic of the last 25 years has either heard a litany of John Fox stories or has quite a few of their own to tell if they crossed paths with him. He defined the term ‘excess’ and operated at one speed – overdrive. Rock and roll had several examples of a personality style like Fox from Keith Moon to Jim Morrison to Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix. In comedy, John Fox was the one.

Fox had the reputation of being able to out drink, out smoke, out snort, out screw and out party a dozen comics, and he did it for years. He was the definition of ‘road dog’, and made top dollar in comedy clubs during the glory years of the ‘80s when being a comedian had rock star status.

Unfortunately, he almost always spent more than he made and would constantly hit up clubs he was scheduled to work weeks or months down the road or comics he knew (like me) for a loan to tide him over. I loaned him money more than a few times, but he would ALWAYS pay me back.

It might have taken a while at times, but I’d eventually get a call asking for my address and I’d find a check in my mailbox a few days later. If I could depend on all bookers to be that rock solid with payments, life would be better. Fox may have had his demons, but he had a human side too.

When I came up the ranks, I worked with him several times. Not once did he ever talk down to me or try to act like he was better than anyone. He was very friendly, and in fact encouraged a lot of young comics when he didn’t have to. Plus, he could rock a room like nobody I’ve ever seen.

WOW, could that guy destroy an audience. When he was on, nobody could match him as far as laugh for laugh powerhouse standup comedy. I’ve seen him at his best and it was a clinic on how to be a nightclub comedian. He had energy, charisma and likeability – and knew how to use it all.

I’ve also seen him at his worst, and that wasn’t a pretty sight in the least – on stage or off. He’d often go on stage with more than a few pops in him, and one night I saw him repeat the same line four times in a row. That was extremely painful to watch, especially after seeing him at his peak.

He was living in an apartment around the block from Zanies in Chicago in recent years, and we would run into each other quite often. Sometimes he would be sober and excitedly tell me he had decided to quit his habits and turn his life around, but other times he’d be a mess. That was ugly.

Comics had varying opinions of John Fox, but I’ve always been a fan and still am. I’m sorry he had the problems he did, but cherish the times we were able to cross paths. He taught me a whole lot about comedy and a bit about life as well, and I consider him a friend. I hope he finds peace.


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