2018-09-07 01:38:27 UTC
Will Jordan, R.I.P.
Published Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 5:09 PM
Another double-obit day. Comic-impressionist Will Jordan died this morning at home at the age of 91. He'd been failing for some time and this was not a surprise. To some, it may be a surprise that Will Jordan was still alive…but he was and he worked whenever anyone wanted him up until the point when his health would no longer allow it.
He was once a very big star thanks to his appearances on Ed Sullivan's TV program and because of his impression of Mr. Sullivan. Jordan did dozen of other celebrities but Ed was one of the most imitated personalities — by Will and by the entire population of the planet. It sometimes felt like everyone — professional or otherwise — did what was supposed to be an impression of Ed Sullivan. In most cases, it was an impression of Will Jordan doing Ed Sullivan.
He did it everywhere — even on Broadway in the hit show, Bye Bye Birdie. When they made the movie of that musical, they didn't hire Will to play Ed. They hired Ed to play Ed, and some reviewers remarked that Will Jordan would have been more convincing in the role.
Will's reputation for brilliance was acknowledged among many of his peers. So was an almost self-destructive paranoia about having his material stolen by some of those peers. One of his good friends was Chuck McCann, who introduced me to Will the one time I met him briefly. He seemed genuinely surprised that I knew who he was and regarded him as a great talent. This was many years after the mainstream industry was hiring him for much more than the occasional Sullivan carbon. Remember the Billy Joel video for "Tell Her About it?" That's Will as Ed.
Chuck later told me that Will was pleased I fawned over him a little — and why not? He was very good at what he did. It wasn't his fault there's rarely that much demand for impressionists. But it was his fault, Chuck said, that he got so crazed when he thought someone had purloined one of his routines that he would stop performing for months on the principle that "If you don't perform it, they can't steal it from you."
Even in the brief time I spoke with Mr. Jordan, he alluded to his oft-expressed claims that Lenny Bruce had gotten much of his best material by swiping from him, as had Mel Brooks for the storyline of The Producers. Even if there was any truth to those assertions — and I'm skeptical there was — that was like three or four decades earlier.
But like I said, a funny man. He made a few records, one of which was a low-circulation "naughty" one that is long out-of-print but not long out-of-bootleg. It was called Ill Will and it's from the era when we didn't say a comedian was "cutting edge" or "new wave." We said the guy was "sick." It's a pretty sick, funny album. But then he was a pretty sick, funny man.