Alan King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg on December 26, 1927, in Manhattan, New York. Later, King’s family moved to Brooklyn. King received his first showbiz break, at the age of fourteen, when he performed on the radio program Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour. Following the program, he was invited to join a nationwide comedy tour.
A year later, King dropped out of high school to perform comedy at the Hotel Gradus in the Catskill Mountains. He was eventually fired from the hotel and moved to Canada. There he worked in a burlesque house while also fighting as a professional boxer. After losing a major fight, King decided to focus more on his acting career and began performing comedy at the popular nightclub Leon and Eddie’s. It was at this time, that he changed his last name to the boxer who beat him, “King.”
King became a famous comedian, well-known as a Jewish satirist. During the 1950s, King changed his style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. In time, King returned to New York and moved to Forest Hills, Queens with his wife and three children. There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. However, his acting career really took off after appearances on the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Garry Moore Shows. King became a regular guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In 1961, he served as the MC for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. He then hosted the Academy Awards in 1972.
King made his film debut in the movie Hit the Deck. During the 1950s, King was given a few small roles in movies. King eventually expanded his acting range, by playing gangsters in films including Cats Eye and The Anderson Tapes. In 1989, King perfomed his most memorable role as a Reform Rabbi in Enemies, a Love Story.
King was also deeply involved in charity work. He founded the Alan King Medical Center in Jerusalem, established a chair in the dramatic arts at Brandeis University, and started the Toyota Comedy Festival. King also created the Laugh Well program, which sends comedians to hospitals to perform for patients.
King died on May 9, 2004, at the age of 76, in Manhattan, New York.
Sources: “Alan King (1927 - 2004).” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 464, Wikipedia, IMDB