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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Joe Flaherty, ‘SCTV’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ actor, dies at 82

Joe Flaherty in one of his best-known roles, as Harold Weir on the TV series “Freaks and Geeks.

By Amanda Holpuch

Joe Flaherty, the comedic actor best known for his performances in the influential sketch comedy series “SCTV” and as a father on the short-lived NBC ensemble series “Freaks and Geeks,” died Monday. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Gudrun Flaherty, who said that Flaherty died after a “brief illness.” She did not specify a cause or say where he died.

Flaherty played a variety of characters on “SCTV” as part of an ensemble that included John Candy, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. The concept of the series, which aired in the 1970s and ’80s, was that its sketches were “shows” for a low-rent TV station in a fictional town called Melonville.

Among Flaherty’s characters were Guy Caballero, the sleazy president of the station, and Sammy Maudlin, an unctuous late-night talk show host. His character Count Floyd wore a cheap vampire costume while hosting a horror movie show, “Monster Chiller Horror Theater.” The joke was that the movies the program showed — such as “Dr. Tongue’s Evil House of Pancakes” — were seldom very scary, leaving Floyd holding the bag and often having to apologize to viewers.

Gudrun Flaherty said in a statement that her father had an “unwavering passion for movies from the ’40s and ’50s,” which influenced his comedy, including his time on “SCTV.”.

Joe Flaherty was also known for roles on television shows and in films that were cherished by fans.

He played Harold Weir, the no-nonsense father of two awkward teenagers, in the cult television series “Freaks and Geeks,” which ran for only one season after premiering in 1999 but helped launch the careers of several young actors, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini.

In the 1996 film “Happy Gilmore,” Flaherty had a small but memorable role as a man who taunts the title character, a golfer played by Adam Sandler, from the crowd.

Joseph O’Flaherty was born on June 21, 1941, in Pittsburgh, the eldest of seven children, according to a 2004 profile in The Globe and Mail. His father was a production clerk at Westinghouse Electric, and the family struggled financially. “I still remember nuns from the church bringing us food,” he said.

After graduating from Central Catholic High School, he joined the Air Force at 17. He had taken a class at Pittsburgh Playhouse before enlisting, and after leaving the Air Force, he returned to the theater to take more classes, he told WESA Pittsburgh, the city’s NPR station, in 2016.

His focus was drama, but he got a taste for the life of a comedic actor while playing George in a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in front of a small audience that laughed at his line readings.

“I was kind of thrown aback because I thought: ‘Hey what are they laughing at? This is a drama,” Flaherty told WESA. “But the lines were actually funny, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed getting laughter from the audience.”

He continued to study dramatic acting, but felt the pull of comedy as he looked for work as an actor. That search took him to Chicago and the Second City, the improvisational comedy theater, which he said was where he fell in love with comedy.

“From that point on, it was all comedy,” he told WESA.

Flaherty — he told The Globe and Mail that he changed his surname to avoid confusion with a Joseph O’Flaherty who was already in the actors equity union — was with Second City in Chicago for seven years before moving to Toronto to help start a branch of the troupe there.

“SCTV,” short for Second City television, emerged as an offshoot of the Toronto troupe in 1976. The show aired first on Global in Toronto, then the CBC, and later on NBC and Cinemax in the United States. It won the Emmy award for outstanding writing in a variety or music program in 1982 and 1983.

After “SCTV” ended in 1984, Flaherty maintained ties to Canada, dividing his time between Toronto and Los Angeles. After “Freaks and Geeks” was canceled, he accepted an invitation to become an artist-in-residence at Humber College in Toronto.

He also worked steadily on television and in films.

In “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), he was the “Western Union man” who delivered a message to Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) after it had sat in the Western Union office for 70 years. He reprised the role years later in a 2010 episode of the animated series “Family Guy.”

In addition to his daughter, Flaherty is survived by a son, Gabe. Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Reflecting on the legacy of “SCTV” two decades after its last episode aired, Flaherty told The Globe and Mail that the fact that the troupe’s members, several of whom went on to successful film and television careers, had worked together extensively onstage was key to the show’s success.

“If we had done it like an American network, they’d have done auditions for cast members,” he said. “They would have picked people out that did good auditions, and then put them together as a group to see if they could find a chemistry. Well, we really had a chemistry. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts.”

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