an American comedian, actor and musician. He was known for his brash visual and verbal comedy style, especially by his character Ralph Kramden on the The Honeymooners, a situation-comedy television series . His most noted film role was as Minnesota Fats in the drama film The Hustler (1961) starring Paul Newman.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Gleason enjoyed a secondary music career, lending his name to a series of best-selling "mood music" albums with jazz overtones for Capitol Records. Gleason felt there was a ready market for romantic instrumentals. He recalled seeing Clark Gable play love scenes in movies, and the romance was, in his words, "magnified a thousand percent" by background music. Gleason reasoned, "If Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate!"
Gleason's first album, Music for Lover's Only still holds the record for the album staying the longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks), and his first ten albums all sold over one million copies.
Gleason could not read or write music in a conventional sense; he was said to have conceived melodies in his head and described them vocally to assistants. These included the well-remembered themes of both The Jackie Gleason Show ("Melancholy Serenade") and The Honeymooners ("You're My Greatest Love"). There has been some controversy over the years as to how much credit Gleason should have received for the finished products; Gleason biographer William A. Henry III wrote in his 1992 book The Great One: The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason that beyond the possible conceptualizing of many of the songs, Gleason had no direct involvement (such as conducting) in the making of these recordings. Red Nichols, a jazz great who had fallen on hard times and led one of the groups recorded, did not even get session-leader pay from Gleason. Nearly all of Gleason's albums are still available, and have been re-released by Capitol Records onto compact disc.
He also took the role of a lead performer in the musical Take Me Along, which ran from 1959 to 1960; he won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
Gleason's acting was not restricted to comedic roles. He had also earned acclaim for live television drama performances in The Laugh Maker (1953) on CBS's Studio One; in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life (1958), which appeared as an episode of Playhouse 90, a television anthology series.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats in The Hustler (1961). He was also well-received as a beleaguered boxing manager in the movie version of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). Gleason also played a world-weary Army sergeant, in Soldier in the Rain (1963).
He wrote, produced, and starred in Gigot (1962), a notorious box-office disaster, in which he plays a poor, mute janitor who befriends and rescues a prostitute and her small daughter. The film's script formed the basis for the television film The Wool Cap (2004) starring William H. Macy in the role of the mute janitor; the television film received modestly good reviews.
Gleason played the lead in the Otto Preminger all-star flop, Skidoo (1968). In 1969, William Friedkin wanted to cast Gleason as "Popeye" Doyle in The French Connection (1971) but between Gigot and Skidoo, the studio refused to offer Gleason the lead in the film, even though he wanted to play it. Instead, Gleason wound up in How to Commit Marriage (1969) with Bob Hope and the movie version of Woody Allen's play Don't Drink the Water (1969), both flops.
More than a decade passed before Gleason had another hit film. This role was a vulgar sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit series (1977, 1980 and 1983).
In the 1980s, Gleason earned positive reviews playing opposite Laurence Olivier in the HBO dramatic two-man special, Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983). He also gave a memorable performance as wealthy businessman U.S. Bates in the comedy The Toy (1982), opposite Richard Pryor. Although the movie itself was critically panned, Gleason and Pryor were praised.
Gleason delivered a critically acclaimed performance as an infirm but acerbic and somewhat Archie Bunker-like character in the Tom Hanks comedy-drama Nothing in Common (1986). The film proved to be Gleason's final film role, as he was fighting colon cancer, liver cancer, and thrombosed hemorrhoids during production.
Gleason was hospitalized at one point in 1986–87, but checked himself out when told he had little chance of recovering. He returned to his Inverrary home and died peacefully on June 24, 1987, at age 71.
Gleason is interred in an outdoor mausoleum at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami, Florida. At the base is the inscription of one of his catchphrases, "And Away We Go."
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