R.I.P. Will Jordan: The Last Echo of Ed Sullivan

There is one thing worse than dying — that’s dying on the same day as Burt Reynolds. That is, if you’re in show business. And that’s what happened to comedian and impressionist Will Jordan yesterday at the age of 91. Jordan was the biggest act I ever presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre (at a special centennial vaudeville tribute to the Palace Theatre in 2013), although at that point he hadn’t been “big” to anyone but us show biz buffs in many decades. But we were thrilled. He was 86 at the time — as close to a real vaudevillian as I’m gonna get, thought Jordan was too young to be in vaudeville.

Jordan carved out an extremely narrow niche for himself as America’s premiere Ed Sullivan impersonator — nearly all Ed Sullivan imitations are based on his. As with most celebrity imitations, key phrases (.e.g., “Really Big Shoe”) have much more to do with the comedian who exaggerates the target than the target himself. Did Sullivan ever utter the phrase? Maybe once or five times, but not daily. The phrase captured him, like a snapshot. At any rate, Jordan, a contemporary and friend of Lenny Bruce, was able to work the routine longer than anyone ever thought possible. After Sullivan died in 1974, it was usually Jordan who portrayed him on stage and screen.

Jordan had other impressions in his repertoire; he also did Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx and others. He had to! He had a nightclub act! You can’t do an hour of Ed Sullivan at the Sands!

Thanks, Bob Greenberg, for tipping me off about Will’s passing.  I’m told the funeral will be held Sunday September 9th, 11 AM, at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue, NY, NY 10024.

The NY Times has published an obit on Jordan. Your humble correspondent is quoted. Read it here.