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Ted Cassidy, You Rang?

Published: 1/16/2014
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Ted Cassidy (Getty Images / ABC Photo Archive)

Actor Ted Cassidy's name is not instantly recognizable even by many people who consider themselves his fans. Most people knew him as "Lurch."

The 6-foot, 9-inch actor played the loyal, grim-faced butler on television's The Addams Family, which ran for two years in the 1960s and countless more years in reruns. But his brief career – he died at 46 on Jan. 16, 1979 – had many other facets.

Cassidy was a radio news reporter on the scene in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. He had roles in such popular films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Last Remake of Beau Geste. He was a popular voice-over actor – his first job was speaking for a Martian in 1960s The Angry Red Planet, and one of his last performances was growling and roaring as the Incredible Hulk on the show of the same name. He had roles in television shows including Star Trek, I Dream of Jeannie and The Six Million Dollar Man.

But Lurch. Lurch was a cult icon. A dance named after him can still be seen on YouTube. The character appeared on other television shows without the rest of the Addams family, even popping up on an episode of Batman. The entire Addams clan was immortalized on trading cards and as figurines. Current eBay listings offer a 6-inch Lurch for $84, while a four-card set including an image of Cassidy fetches $54.38.

Lurch originally was intended to be a nonspeaking role, but Cassidy ad-libbed, "You rang?" during his audition. It became his signature line. Cassidy also played the role of "Thing," the disembodied hand. (A show producer stepped in when Thing and Lurch appeared in the same scene.)

Once Lurch was given a voice – he spoke in a deep tone reminiscent of someone shaking a box of rocks – he also got story lines. In one episode, Lurch's mother, played by Ellen Corby, who later starred as The Waltons matriarch Grandma Esther Walton, comes to visit, referring to her towering boy as "Sonny." In the two-part episode, "Lurch's Grand Romance," Lurch falls in love, at least for a little while.

Lurch enjoyed being stretched on the rack by Grandmama. He took love-life advice from Uncle Fester. He was another father figure to Wednesday and Pugsley.

When Wednesday tried to teach him to dance, Lurch's lurching was amazingly rhythmic. In fact, Cassidy was an accomplished organist. As Lurch, he only pretended to play The Addams Family theme song on a harpsichord in the show's opening sequence.

Cassidy once said that he didn't want to be remembered for any of his roles."I don't like any of them. I'm not proud of any of them. I am still waiting for the one role I will have pride in and want to be associated with down the years," he was quoted as saying, according to the Internet Movie Database.

Cassidy also bemoaned the many times he was typecast because of his appearance. In a 1978 interview, according to IMDb, he said, "They always make fellows like me the big dumb galoot, the oaf who doesn't know anything, who trips over himself. We are apparently idiots, all big men. You end up never leading anybody to anything. You end up holding people, while the boss hits them in the face. … That kind of thing doesn't appeal to me at all. I used to think that's how it was and I would do it, but I won't do it anymore. I turn down everything that comes along like that. So the only thing you can rely on are those who have worked with you and know you are consistent, talented and reliable, and maybe they're friends of yours and are willing to put you to work so you don't end up in the welfare line."

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."

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