(BEVERLY HILLS, CA) The Cryptkeeper, known to generations in America as a pun-spouting spinner of ghastly yarns in comics, film, and television, passed away last night at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 117.
The cause was heart failure, according to a statement released by his publicist Michelle Bega. It went on to say “our hearts are heavy with grief. At the same time, this was obviously the Cryptkeeper’s favorite time of year. We can take solace that somewhere he is smiling and laughing, no doubt.”
Known also as Crypt-Keeper, or by the alias T. Charles Kingman, the Cryptkeeper’s real name is unknown. He claims to have been born in 1898 to a father who was a two-headed corpse and a mother who was an ancient Egyptian mummy.
“The two were in a traveling carnival,” the Cryptkeeper told CBS Sunday Morning in a 2012 interview. “They left the carnival and conceived me in a cave. When the carnival came back a year later, my parents left me and returned to the carnival. First they ditched the carnival, then they ditched me. I guess you could say I’m a real…son of a DITCH!” he laughed.
He spent his childhood in and out of orphanages and foster homes, finally earning emancipation at the age of 15. That’s when he headed to New York, where he met writers and artists for what would eventually become EC Comics. “I always had a leaning toward the macabre,” he recalled. “I had a lot of stories. Horror is always a big seller, so I pitched a few and they sold well.” That led to his own title, Tales From The Crypt and various spinoffs.
“I’m so glad I was able to give them…A HAND!” the Cryptkeeper guffawed, adding, “Figuratively…nobody chopped it off of course.”
The popularity of the comics soared until the early 1950s, when Congress’ House Un-American Activities investigated the comic book industry. Several horror titles were canceled in spite of Cryptkeeper’s impassioned rant to the committee against “witch trials far worse than I’ve told, seen or heard in any horror story.”
Although the comics would make a minor comeback in the ’70s, it was in 1989 that the Cryptkeeper’s signature franchise reached a much wider audience, through the medium of premium cable TV.
“We had pitched the anthology series to networks a few times,” he told TV Guide in 1991. “With their standards and practices, it just wouldn’t have been a scary show. We didn’t want camp.” Enter HBO.
“With HBO, we got wide latitude – for cursing, blood, horror, you name it. It really was a match made in….HELL!!” he cackled.
The series ran seven seasons and featured numerous guest stars, from Kirk Douglas to Morton Downey, Jr., and guest directors like Robert Zemeckis and Richard Donner. In the process it made its host an international celebrity. “Luckily, I had the perfect face for it,” he joked.
“Before, I was recognized by the geeks at the comic book conventions,” he remarked. By 1990, however, “I couldn’t walk down the street.” Autograph hounds and groupies crowded his stage door.
The series was spun off into a film franchise, a radio series, a game show, and even a Saturday-morning cartoon. After its run, the Cryptkeeper went into semi-retirement. He has no immediate family but spent time with numerous friends, including actor Sam Waterston, whom he met on the set of his show. “‘Charlie’ will be missed greatly,” Waterston told reporters, adding that the Cryptkeeper had in fact shot scenes for a lost episode of Law & Order in 1992, which never aired.
Asked once if he ever wondered about his long-lost parents, the Cryptkeeper was stoic. “I was born of wicked means by wicked people. They did what they had to do, and here I am. I’m just grateful the American people welcomed me into their homes so many times in so many ways. The success I’ve had is simply humbling.”
He paused, thought about it, and added with maniacal laughter, “Looks like I made…THE CUT!!”