Tim Conway, the Emmy-winning actor best known for his role in "The Carol Burnett Show," died Tuesday morning in Los Angeles after a long illness, his publicist, Howard Bragman, said. He was 85. His wife, Charlene Fusco, and a daughter, Jackie, were at his side. Conway also starred in "McHale's Navy" and later voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for "Spongebob Squarepants." An Ohio-native, Conway credited his Midwestern roots for putting him on the right path to laughs, with his deadpan expression and innocent, simple-minded demeanor.
"I think the Midwest is the heart of comedy in this country, and a little bit of the South, too," he told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2005. "For some reason, we're just more laid-back, more understanding. ... And Midwesterners have a kinder sense of humor."
Starting with the 1975–76 season, Conway became a regular on The Carol Burnett Show, after having been a frequent guest for the show's first eight seasons. Conway's work on the show earned him four Emmy Awards — one for writing and three for performance, one of which was before he became a regular. Two of Conway's memorable characters on the Burnett Show were: The Oldest Man, whose shaggy white hair, slow speech, and shuffling gait ran counter to the much-needed energy levels of the various occupations in which he was usually found. His comic inability to get said jobs done — usually with slapstick results to himself and, with many an ad-lib — both frustrated and "broke up" his fellow sketch performers. Mr. Tudball, a businessman whose intentions of running a "ship-shape" office were usually sunk by the bored indifference of his secretary, Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett). Although the character was widely thought to be Swedish, Conway used a Romanian accent learned from his mother. For example, his attempts to pronounce his secretary's name came out as "Mrs. Uh-whiggins". He also used this accent for other characters, such as an inept dentist. Conway could also get results with no dialogue, such as in a sketch in which he played a tired businessman seeking restful sleep in his hotel — and pestered by a housefly, created only by a sound effect and Conway's gazing after it. After much struggle, he manages to get the fly out of the room through the window; after returning to bed, he hears a persistent knock on his door, gets up to answer it, and opens the door, letting the fly (who was doing the knocking) back in. Another skit, also without a word from Conway, featured him playing Simba, a lion raised by humans then released to the wild (based on the lioness Elsa in the film Born Free). Conway, told of the upcoming eviction from the comfortable home, caused Burnett and Harvey Korman to break up with an interminable process of packing to leave. A prime example of his ability to make his co-stars laugh uncontrollably involved Lyle Waggoner as a captured American airman, with Conway as a stereotypical blond-haired Gestapo agent charged with his interrogation. Stating that "the Fuhrer" had taken particular interest, Conway produced a small Hitler hand puppet. Conway suggested to the puppet that singing might relax Waggoner's character to the point he is willing to talk. In a long, drawn-out fashion, the Hitler puppet (Conway providing a falsetto voice, with German accent) sings "I've Been Working on the Railroad", and with each passing verse, Waggoner loses more of his composure, finally laughing hysterically when puppet-Hitler screeches, "FEE-FI-Fiddely-I-O!". Conway remained a regular cast member of The Carol Burnett Show until the program's run ended, in 1978