The Tragic 1979 Death Of The Original Lurch From The Addams Family

Tim Burton's Netflix series "Wednesday," set to premiere November 23, is a spin-off of the classic TV show "The Addams Family," originally on the air from 1964 through 1966 (via IMDb), itself based on the cartoons of Charles Addams published in The New Yorker. Though Burton's show is focused on the Addams family's morbidly precocious young daughter, Wednesday, much of the success of the original series and the subsequent reboots, both televised and on film, is owed to the ensemble cast, as they charmingly portray the antics of the macabre clan and their spooky staff.

One popular character in the show is Lurch, the Frankenstein-like family butler known for saying "You rang?" He's played in the new Netflix series by George Burcea, and in the old show by the six-foot-nine-inch-tall actor Ted Cassidy (pictured). Fans may also remember Cassidy as Bigfoot in an episode of the hit TV series "Six Million Dollar Man" or Harvey Logan in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," per his 1979 obit in The New York Times. Cassidy was only 46 years old when he died, and details of his death offer a tragic tone to the Addams-verse' typically light-hearted, though dark, sensibility.

Cassidy lived with acromegaly

According to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website, a contributing factor in Cassidy's success in Hollywood — his height and unusual, gaunt appearance, among other aspects of his look — was the same issue that would one day lead to his early death. Cassidy lived with a real medical condition called acromegaly, a human growth hormone disorder, and because of this he was typecast as tall, lumbering characters.

With acromegaly, a number of health problems can occur alongside excess height, such as larger than usual hands and feet and facial features, according to Mayo Clinic. Other side effects of acromegaly are heart problems, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy — an enlarged heart. All combined, some of those features helped find work in film and TV, but over time, he was only cast in certain types of roles: tall, ghoulish characters like Lurch, the primitive Tarzan, or as the monstrous voice of Godzilla (via IMDb).

Cassidy was dissatisfied with the Hollywood roles he was offered

Compounding the tragedy of how Cassidy died, he was dissatisfied with his typecasting due in no small part to his appearance. Speaking to Starlog Magazine, issue 115 (now archived) in 1978, shortly before he died, Cassidy said whenever he's up for a part, "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."

Speaking with West Virginia news outlet WBOY in 2021, though, on the occasion of "Lurch Fest," Christofer Cook, who's writing a biography of Cassidy, noted, "[T]he most unique part of Ted Cassidy's life is that even though he had some difficulties being the size that he is, and that he was bullied at times, the most amazing part of him was he was intrepid." "Lurch Fest" is an annual Cassidy celebration in Philippi, West Virginia, where Cassidy grew up. "He really had this drive to look past all of those things that would have held someone back," Cool continued. "[H]e used his large size in order to become a commodity in Hollywood, and he did very well."

The actor who played lurch died from heart surgery complications

Career challenges aside, shortly before he died in Los Angeles, Cassidy had open-heart surgery to address a non-malignant tumor, possibly related to his medical condition. He'd returned home to recuperate when his health took a turn for the worse, via reporting by The New York Times. At the time that he died, Cassidy did voice-work for the TV series "The Incredible Hulk" starring Lou Ferrigno in the lead role. On the air until 1982, Cassidy's off-screen, uncredited narration was retained. Early on he also supplied Hulk's guttural utterances, which after Cassidy died were replaced by real animal sounds.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, between 50 and 70 people per million are affected by acromegaly. It is typically not fatal, though complications from the condition can be life-threatening, per Acromegaly Support. As CBS News explains, Cassidy was readmitted to the hospital due to complications from open-heart surgery while recuperating in his Los Angeles home. He died a short time later, on January 16, 1979. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in the backyard of his L.A. home. A memorial for Cassidy was held at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood. Described as a very "private man" by his manager, news reports of the time commented on how Cassidy's death went almost "unreported," per Connecticut news outlet The Hour.