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Ladies and Gentlemen, Shecky Greene

A Chicago boy born on April 8, 1926, the curtain came down on him December 31, 2023, after a 97-year run. 
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January 11, 2024

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jewish comedian, Fred Sheldon Greenfield, known as Shecky Greene, earned $150,000 a week, equivalent to about $800,000 today. A Chicago boy born on April 8, 1926, the curtain came down on him December 31, 2023, after a 97-year run. 

Shecky had quite a reputation. He indulged in drinking, smoking, drugs, and gambling, often finding himself in fights. One evening he drove into a fountain in front of a Las Vegas hotel. Legend has it that when the cop found him in the fountain, Shecky jested, “No spray wax,” a joke given to him by Buddy Hackett. Comedians find humor everywhere. 

Shecky was his funniest when he was angry. His legendary feud with Frank Sinatra resulted in an altercation in a parking lot where some of Sinatra’s boys were pounding him. Shecky said, “Frank saved my life when he said, ‘That’s enough boys.’”

He also openly acknowledged his bipolar disorder. “I’m more than bipolar. I’m South Polar, North Polar. I’m every polar there is. I even lived with a polar bear for about a year.”

Shecky had been married thrice, his final marriage to Marie Musso lasting from 1985 until his passing. He also openly acknowledged his bipolar disorder. “I’m more than bipolar. I’m South Polar, North Polar. I’m every polar there is. I even lived with a polar bear for about a year.” It got so bad Shecky didn’t perform for years. 

The comedian Pat Cooper lauded him, saying, “One of the greatest I ever saw in a nightclub. I saw him climb the curtain and do 20 minutes on top of the curtain! He destroyed an audience.” Shecky was at his best live in a nightclub. He said, ”I should have been fired 150 times in Vegas. I only was fired 130.” Sorry to say I never saw him perform live.  

My encounters with Shecky stemmed from my friendship with the great comedian Pete Barbutti, who was on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson over 40 times. Pete, now 89 and still performing, introduced us. Last time we spoke I said, “Pete I‘ll see you in a few months.” Pete shot back, “If I’m still alive.” Reflecting the era when most comedians worked clean, Pete and Shecky shared that trait. 

I was invited by Pete to join their weekly Monday breakfast gathering at The Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, Nevada, and despite a long drive back to Los Angeles, I couldn’t miss the chance to meet Shecky, who was around 94 the first of three times we met.

He was still a powerhouse presence, and he immediately engaged me with a thick very funny Jewish accent. “Are you ah Jewish bouy?”  When I said “Yes,” he insisted I sit next to him, then plopped me in a seat. Even at 94, he seemed stronger than I’d ever been. 

It was immediately apparent that his mind and wit were still razor-sharp. When I told my 98-year-old friend Dr. George Stanley I was meeting with Shecky, George told me his wife Sally went to high school with him and then gave me photos from the yearbook to show Shecky. Shecky remembered everyone in the photos. 

At breakfast when the waitress went by, he said, “Sweetheart will you check my Keno tickets please?” “Of course, Shecky,” she said.  She returned minutes later with a $180 win. He immediately broke into an improvised song about Keno. 

Attending these breakfasts, I observed the immense respect and admiration everyone held for Shecky, mostly people aged 70 and up. To them, he represented the essence of old Las Vegas and stand-up comedy. 

People flocked to Vegas for Shecky’s performances because they knew he’d always entertain, never quite knowing what to expect. The same applied at breakfast; you couldn’t predict his actions, but you were guaranteed to be entertained.  Even in his mid-nineties, while he sang or joked, he had the same devilish smile of a 12-year-old caught doing something silly by his teacher. 

Behind the scenes, there was a compassionate side to Shecky rarely discussed. He financially supported a fellow comic struggling with eye problems. He purchased a house for his wife’s sister. One comic who could not get work, Shecky got him work and told the casino owner he would pay the comic himself if it was a bust. For over 70 years he made us laugh. Ladies and Gentlemen that was Shecky Greene.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the ‘You Don’t Know Schiff’ podcast. His new book is “Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage and Chutzpah.”

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