Gallagher, the inventive prop comedian best known for smashing watermelons as part of his act, died Friday of organ failure, according to his former manager Craig Marquardo. He was 76.
Gallagher had been in hospice care in California for several years after suffering multiple heart attacks.
The mononymous comedian, born Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr., rose to prominence in 1980 with “An Uncensored Evening,” the first standup comedy special to air on Showtime. Gallagher went on to write 12 more hour-long specials for the network, as well as several popular HBO shows.
Gallagher’s signature bit involved a handmade sledgehammer he called the “Sledge-O-Matic,” which he would use to smash food onstage and spray it onto the audience. His hammer’s trademark victim was the watermelon. Gallagher also became famous for his witty wordplay and sharp observational comedy.
While his contemporaries went on to host talk shows or star in sitcoms or movies, Gallagher remained on the road in America for nearly four decades, touring steadily up until the COVID-19 pandemic and playing over 3,500 live shows throughout his career.
In his later years, Gallagher led a long-running Geico commercial and appeared in his first movie, “The Book of Daniel.” In 2019, he embarked on a farewell tour dubbed the “Last Smash.”
Gallagher granted his brother, Ron Gallagher, permission to perform the “Sledge-O-Matic” routine in the early 1990s, on the condition that promotional materials clearly state that Ron, not Leo, was performing.
After a few years, Ron began marketing his act as Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two, and it was not always clear that he was not the original Gallagher.
Leo asked Ron to stop doing the “Sledge-O-Matic” routine, but his brother insisted on continuing. In 2000, Leo sued his brother for trademark infringement and false advertising, and the court issued an injunction prohibiting Ron from impersonating Leo or intentionally bearing likeness to him.