Recently Dead: Chucko the Clown (Randy Runyon)

Chucko Randy Runyon on UnicycleRandy Runyon, who took over the role of the beloved Southern California entertainer, Chucko the Clown, from his father in the 1980s, died after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 57. From the LA Times: “Runyon’s father, Charles M. Runyon, created the character and starred in the ‘Chucko the Birthday Clown’ show on KABC and KTTV in the 1950s and ’60s. Children often waited years for the chance to appear on the popular show on their birthday with Chucko, who, with his finely painted clown face and spinning merry-go-round hat, became a Los Angeles celebrity along with such other kiddie-show stars as Engineer Bill, Sheriff John and Bozo the Clown.” Randy made his debut as Chucko Jr. in the Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade alongside his dad in the mid-1960s. He then went on to play the cowboy-inspired Jeepers the Clown in what is now the Circus Vargas. He teamed with his first wife Joan for a juggling-on-unicycle act, and toured with his second wife (also named Joan) in a magic act that played the kiddie party circuit. He tried for a while to work in real estate and telemarketing, but the lure of the greasepaint was too much. From the Times: “He began playing Chucko full-time in 1984, after his father retired. In addition to appearing at birthday and large corporate parties, he occasionally was seen on television on shows such as The Arsenio Hall Show and the soap opera Santa Barbara as well as in commercials for Taco Bell.” Here’s where it gets interesting, though: “Runyon, who battled a number of addictions and was homeless for a time, retired the Chucko act in 1995 after several lean years for the clown business. According to family friend Roger Smith, Runyon blamed the downturn in bookings on the 1990 TV miniseries It, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name that featured a demonic clown character. ‘He maintained that independent clowns suffered nationwide due to the movie,’ Smith said, ‘and he eventually retired the act rather than have children confused and afraid of their beloved Chucko.'”