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Comedian Freddie Roman has died at the age of 85

Comedian Freddie Roman, former dean of The Friars Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85.

Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., his booking agent and girlfriend Alison Chaplin said Sunday. His daughter told Deadline that he suffered a heart attack that morning.

Roman made a name for himself performing at hotels and resorts in the Catskill Mountains, also known as the Borscht Belt because of the mostly Jewish crowd that vacationed there and the comics like Mel Brooks and Don Rickles who entertained them. He later performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Bally’s Grand in Atlantic City, and toasted musicians such as Rob Reiner, Chevy Chase, Jerry Stiller and Hugh Hefner. He also conceived Catskills on Broadway, where he and his friends Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Mel Z. Lawrence brought their stand-up act with a touch of nostalgia and a Catskills flavor to New York. He has also appeared in various television shows and movies over the years, including Amazon’s “Red Oaks.”

“A great loss to the world of comedy,” Paul Reiser wrote on Twitter. “He was such a great supporter and mentor when I was starting out. GREAT comic, ultimate professional with a big heart. I will miss our phone calls and his big, beautiful laugh.”

Born Fred Kirschenbaum on May 28, 1937, in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Roman developed an early taste for stand-up comedy through his family. His uncle and grandfather owned the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills, where Roman started working at age 15.

In “Catskills on Broadway,” Roman commented on everything from his childhood in Queens to his “retired life” in Florida.

“I took a cholesterol test,” Roman quipped. “My number is back 911.”

The New York Times, in its 1991 review of the show, wrote, “Catskill resorts may be struggling with a recession, but Catskill comedy hasn’t lost its flair.”

He would later say that the show changed his life. It ran on Broadway and then toured the country, and Roman continued to perform for many years. He was also appointed dean of the Friars Club of New York, where he mentored many aspiring comedians and filled the private club with young talent.

One of those young comedians was Geoffrey Ross, who said of Roman in 2003: “When I was a member, there weren’t many younger us. … But Freddie would always come and hang out with me and my friends and was really sweet.”

Capri said in the same interview that Roman was the perfect ambassador for comedy.

“He’s the social director of the world,” Capri said. “And he loves every second of it.”

The job took a little longer than he expected. Roman joked about his tenure: “Eleven years ago, I became president for two years. I’m like the Fidel Castro of comedians. I’m president for life.” In 2014, he was succeeded by Larry King.

But as he told Atlantic City Weekly in 2011, the greatest job he ever had was opening for Frank Sinatra when his regular comedian Tom Driesen wasn’t around. Roman learned of the opportunity during a layover in Chicago, left the plane and boarded another plane bound for Philadelphia to perform a show in Atlantic City with only a few hours to spare.

He left the stage to see Sinatra laughing. The singer even called him back for another bow.

“Frank hugged me and I saw my wife and daughter crying,” Roman said. “It was incredible. … Nothing ever topped working with Sinatra.”


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