Tragic Details About Louie Anderson

Though the two concepts may seem like opposites, comedy and pain, in fact, go together hand in hand. Many of the greatest comedians of all time have drawn on their personal pain for their bits or, at the very least, endured their pain while entertaining. For example, as HuffPost notes, Robin Williams entertained millions with his comedy while dealing with depression and ultimately dying in 2014. Similarly, John Belushi may have been one of the funniest men to ever perform on "Saturday Night Live," but he suffered with substance abuse issues and died in 1982 (via Biography).

Another comedian who dealt with tragedy and pain, particularly in his childhood, was Louie Anderson. The stand-up comedian, game show host, and actor lived through an extraordinarily difficult childhood, due to his alcoholic and abusive father. Indeed, by some measures, much of his career was about making things up to his beloved mother.

Louie Anderson's father was reportedly an alcoholic

As Anderson told People in 2018, he was one of 11 children, and he grew up in a St. Paul housing project. He described his father as an abusive alcoholic. 

According to The Orlando Sentinel, there was very little love or affection between the elder Anderson and his children, and indeed, much of Louie's early life was spent trying to guess what sort of mood his father was in. Even when he was in a "good" mood, so acerbic was Louis William Anderson that his day could be ruined by seeing someone he didn't like. He was the type of man who, according to Vulture, would slow down to glare at a stranger for no reason other than the person looked "different." "Get my rifle!" Louie joked that his father would say. 

He also wasn't above endangering his own children with his purported alcoholism. On one occasion, Louie and his younger brother were in the car when his father was driving, and the elder Anderson drove off the road, into a snowbank, while bouncing off trees. On another occasion, a young Louie saw a toy that he wanted, but his father balked at the $4.88 price tag, only to spend $5 on a case of beer a few hours later. Apparently, Louie also witnessed his father beating his mother.

Growing up dirt poor

Louie Anderson's father reportedly had difficulty holding a job due to his alcoholism and/or his personality issues, and Louie, his mother, and siblings suffered because of it. As Vulture notes, most months the family was left with the choice of having the gas shut off or the lights shut off. However, Ora Anderson had developed a coping mechanism: she kept candles, "a million" of them, as Louie described it, and often as not they'd opt for shutting off the lights. Similarly, another of her coping mechanisms was to upcycle: When she found an inoperable toaster for 25 cents at a garage sale, she saw a good deal, noting that the cord alone was worth a quarter.

Of course, Anderson mined his family's poverty for his stand-up. In one memorable joke, he spoke of throwing away a brown paper shopping bag and then hearing his mother's voice in his head, chiding him for his wastefulness. "What are you doing? What are we, the Rockefellers suddenly?" the joke went.

Anderson forgave his father

Despite the extreme abuse and neglect he and his mother and siblings endured because of the elder Anderson, it can be easy to assume that Louie cut his father out of his life. However, as the elder Anderson was dying of cancer, Louie forgave him, in particular because Louis' own childhood was even worse than Louie's. As he told People, when the elder Anderson was around 10 years old, he and his sister were taken from their home and put up for adoption. What's more, at the time, being put up for adoption meant being taken to a nearby church and whatever family wanted you would pick you. The elder Anderson and his sister were separated and didn't see each other again for 50 years. "My dad had a 10 times harder life than mine," he said.

Louie also said that, having forgiven his father, he missed him. "I love him. I miss the grumpy, coffee-sipping person that he was," he said.

Anderson's career has been about making it up to his mom

According to Vulture, Ora Anderson was the exact opposite of her husband. Louie described her as having charisma and commanding a room when she walked into it. "She put up with my dad, who was an extremely abusive alcoholic. But she never, ever let us feel the brunt of that," he said.

Given the choice between becoming like his father or like his mother, he opted for the latter. "No matter how tough it got for Laura Stella Anderson, she never lost her humanity. She had so much of it that it dribbled onto me," he said, via People. And indeed, he honored his mother in the most public fashion of all: praising her when he accepted a Critics Choice Award in 2016. "To my mom, who raised 11 children, and my dad was mean to her," he said. Further, Louie more or less became his mother, figuratively, by playing Christine Baskets in the Hulu series "Baskets."

Once extorted by a stranger

In 1997, according to The LA Times, Anderson was blackmailed by a man he'd met at a casino. Specifically, Anderson had reportedly met Richard John Gordon, and Anderson asked Gordon to come home with him. Supposedly, Anderson at first wanted Gordon to disrobe so he (Anderson) could touch him, but then changed his mind and only wanted to see him disrobe. 

At the time, according to E! Online, Anderson was in two family-friendly shows — "Family Feud" and "Life With Louie" — and allegedly wanted Gordon to keep quiet about the incident. The two men then purportedly agreed to a $100,000 hush money payment, but later Gordon demanded more — $250,000 — and sent Anderson a letter in which he threatened to reveal his secrets and derail his career. "Stars are falling left and right," Gordon reportedly said. Anderson contacted the FBI, and a sting operation was set up. Ultimately, Gordon pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay $4,000 in restitution.