Julius ‘Nipsey’ Russell was an American comedian and actor who was born on September 15, 1918. He began his career in the entertainment industry by working in nightclubs. In 1952, he teamed up with Mantan Moreland for a stage act, which was his first important collaboration. Following his participation in “The Ed Sullivan Show,” he gained even more fame. When Russell debuted on ABC’s “Missing Links” in 1964, he became the first black artist to be a regular panelist on a daily network game show. Dick Clark, Bill Cullen, and Betty White, among others in the industry, dubbed him “the poet laureate of television.” Join us in celebrating his life today.
Nipsey Russell was allegedly born on September 15, 1918, in Atlanta, Georgia. His birthdate is unknown; his birth certificate, according to a source, was lost. Friends estimated his age to be 80 at the time of his death, and that was the age mentioned in his obituary. Before enrolling at the University of Cincinnati in 1936, he attended Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School. He joined the U.S. Army as a medic in World War II, joining as a private on June 27, 1941, and returned from Europe as a second lieutenant in 1945. Nipsey Russell had his first civilian job as a carhop at The Varsity, an Atlanta drive-in. He supplemented his income by providing comic entertainment to his customers. He had established himself as a talented comedian in Atlanta’s club scene by the early 1950s.
In a stage performance with film comedian, Mantan Moreland in 1952, Russell replaced Ben Carter as Moreland’s dapper straight man. He had a notable performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and appeared multiple times on “The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar.” Russell’s quick-witted banter with Paar demonstrated that he could hold his own as a guest, earning him a slew of appearances on the day’s variety shows. Russell was offered a regular part in “Car 54, Where Are You?” by television producers. Russell was one of the first African Americans to have a co-starring role in a sitcom when he played Officer Anderson on the NBC comedy series from 1961 to 1963. Russell joined ABC’s “Les Crane Show” as a co-host in 1965. He co-starred in the ABC sitcom “Barefoot in the Park” in 1970. He was a regular on “The Dean Martin Show” and “The Dean Martin Comedy World” from 1973 until 1976. Following that, he had sporadic appearances on television shows, as well as guest-hosting stints on “The Tonight Show” during the Johnny Carson era. Russell performed frequently in Las Vegas, including a run of shows at the Frontier Hotel in 1978 and 1979 with Sergio Franchi, and a show at the Sands Hotel Copa Room in 1979 with Franchi. On January 1, 1977, he performed at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, New York.
Nipsey Russell had been a bachelor his entire life and had no children. Russell’s numerous appearances on NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” helped him gain fame among the younger generation in his final years. During comedic sketches with booked guests, he would appear and deliver his signature poetry. In 2004, he made his final television appearance when he was featured on “Hollywood Squares,” which was hosted at the time by Tom Bergeron. Russell died on October 2, 2005, in New York City at the age of 87, following a long battle with stomach cancer. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean, as per his wishes.
Russell lands his first acting role as Officer Anderson on the series “Car 54, Where Are You?”
In 1964, Russell starts working on his first game show, ABC’s “Missing Link.”
In 1968, Russell co-writes the script for the TV movie “Soul.”
Russell plays his last acting role in the legal drama TV series “100 Centre Street”.
In 2004, he appears on TV for the last time as he features in “Hollywood Squares,” which was at the time hosted by Tom Bergeron.
Nipsey Russell’s birthday dates