Nipsey Russell, comedian, Died at 87

Julius “Nipsey” Russell died on October 2, 2005 at the age of 87, he was an American comedian, best known today for his appearances as a guest panelist on game shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, especially Match Game, Password, Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth and Pyramid.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 15, 1918, Russell went to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and attended the University of Cincinnati for one semester in 1936.

He served as a medic in the United States Army during World War II, enlisting as a private on June 27, 1941, and returning from Europe in 1945 as a second lieutenant.

He got his start in the 1940s as a carhop at the Atlanta drive-in The Varsity, where he increased the tips he earned by making customers laugh.

In the late 1950s, Russell appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, which led to a supporting part as a New York policeman in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? In 1961, in 1965 he became a co-host of ABC’s Les Crane Show.

During the 1970s, he was a co-star in the ABC sitcom Barefoot in the Park and appeared regularly on The Dean Martin Show and The Dean Martin Comedy World.

Scattered appearances on television series followed, as well as occasional guest-host stints on The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson era.

Russell also appeared frequently in Las Vegas; including a series of appearances with Sergio Franchi at the Frontier Hotel in 1978 and 1979, and with Franchi in 1979 at the Sands Hotel Copa Room.

By the age of 6, he had become the singing and dancing master of ceremonies for a local Atlanta children’s troupe run by the jazz musician Eddie Heywood, Sr. Russell traced his interest in comedy back to seeing a performance by the African-American performer Jack Wiggins around the age of 9.

Russell recalled, “He came out immaculately attired in a well-dressed street suit and he tap-danced.

As he danced, he told little jokes in between. He was so clean in his language and was lacking in any drawl, he just inspired me. I wanted to do that.”

By age 10, he was devouring the works of English poets such as Chaucer, Shelley and Keats as well as working through Homer’s epics in the original Greek.

He graduated early from high school at the age of 15, having spent his senior year living with an aunt in Cincinnati so that he could attend the University of Cincinnati tuition-free.

However, Russell’s studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

To his surprise, on a 2003 episode of Hollywood Squares, it was revealed that the character Little Nipper in the cartoon strip Wee Pals had been named for him.

Nipsey Russell was never married and did not have any children. He often joked, “I have enough trouble living with myself, how could I ever live with anyone else?” Russell passed away in New York City after a yearlong struggle with cancer.