Pat Cooper, Angry Stand-Up Comedian, Dies at 93
By Mike Barnes,2023-06-07
Pat Cooper, the brash Italian-American stand-up from Brooklyn whose anger real and imagined provided fuel for a long career in comedy, has died. He was 93.
Cooper died Tuesday night at his home in Las Vegas, his wife, Emily Conner, announced.
A mainstay in nightclubs from Atlantic City to Las Vegas, Cooper opened for Ginger Rogers at the Desert Inn and Frank Sinatra at the Sands. He said he once refused to take out a joke about an upside-down St. Anthony statue that Sinatra wanted excised and never worked with the singer again.
Also known for his nonstop, rapid-fire delivery, Cooper appeared as himself on the 1996 Seinfeld episode “The Friars Club” — he participated in many a roast at that famed comedic establishment in midtown Manhattan — and made regular appearances on late-night talk shows, for Ed Sullivan and, starting in the 1980s, on Howard Stern’s radio program.
The bespectacled comic played consigliere Salvatore Masiello in Analyze This (1999) and its 2002 follow-up, Analyze That (2002) but said he refused Martin Scorsese’s invitation to appear in Casino (1995), saying he was “a name performer” who deserved more than three lines of dialogue.
In his 2011 memoir, How Dare You Say How Dare Me!: An Autobiography of a Life in Comedy , Cooper wrote that he never appeared again on The Tonight Show after a drunken Johnny Carson accidentally urinated on him in the bathroom of a New York nightclub in the early 1970s. That tale was related in the chapter called “I’d Rather Be Pissed Off Than Pissed On.”
“I am a semi name,” he told the New York Observer in 1999. “I am not a Rodney Dangerfield. I am not a Bob Hope. I am a consistent performer. I’m packing rooms. But I’m happier than Rodney will ever be.”
He was born Pasquale Caputo on July 31, 1929, and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. His father was a bricklayer, and for a time Cooper was one too. He also worked as a longshoreman.
He went on the Fox Amateur Hour radio show as a youngster, did impressions and won first prize, but his parents were not impressed.
“I came from a family that didn’t understand [show business],” he told Kliph Nesteroff in a 2011 interview for the Classic Television Showbiz blog. “Unless you sang opera, you were nothing. If you sang off-key, you were another Caruso. If you said something funny at the table, you were disorderly, you were out of order, and your old man [would want to] throw you out the window.”
After he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army, Cooper was appearing in low-level nightclubs when he was spotted by an agent, Willie Webber. He vowed to get Cooper on Jackie Gleason’s TV show and, sure enough, came through a few months later.
This was in 1963. Almost overnight, Cooper was playing Vegas, Reno and top-notch clubs like the Copacabana in New York.
In 1965, Cooper had success with the comedy album Our Hero — (Billboard said it “does for the Italian-American community what Jackie Mason did for the Jewish-American community”) — followed a year later by Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights . The first LP cover showed him reclining inside a large sandwich, the second had him covered in red sauce.
He frequently toured with the Italian-born tenor Sergio Franchi before the singer’s death from a brain tumor in 1990.
Cooper frequently complained that dinner companions like Jerry Vale, Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano and Mickey Mantle never picked up a check. “It used to annoy me,” he told Nesteroff. How dare you think I gotta turn around and buy your food! You guys are millionaires! You guys are bigger stars, and they would come to The Copa and never pay!”
Cooper was married and divorced from his first wife, Dolores, then wed singer Patti Prince in 1963. They adopted a daughter, Patti Jo, in 1970. Prince died in 2005 at age 69.
Cooper spent years estranged from the two children from his first marriage. His daughter, Louise, and ex-wife once called in to Stern’s radio show to lay into him, and his son, Michael, in 2009 published a book, Dear Pat Cooper, about his sour relationship with his dad.
Wrote Michael: “He hated us with every fiber of his being, and I could never understand why. What did any of us do to make my father keep away from the whole family and go find himself a new one?”
In addition to his three children and his third wife, whom he married in 2018, survivors include his sisters, Grace, Carol and Marie, and five grandchildren. Donations in his name can be made to Shriners Hospitals for Children or the Neon Museum Las Vegas .