A $75,000 wrestling accident almost broke Jackie Gleason's neck

The botch could've ended Gleason's career.

Sketch comedy is best when it's grounded in some element of realism. Either the characters or the situation has to be rooted in believability. That's because a huge part of what makes great skits is predictability. The more audiences can predict a pattern, the more opportunities writers have to build on a rhythm or subvert expectations. 

Unfortunately, Jackie Gleason should've predicted that having a genuine wrestler on his show might result in very realistic injuries.

That's what happened in 1956 when Jackie Gleason hired Johnny Heidmann to perform a stunt on The Jackie Gleason Show. Despite cries of protest, Gleason insisted on having a real wrestler in the sketch to ground the skit in reality. Gleason was going to be wearing a loin cloth and needed a wrestler to work off of.

Heidmann was being a little too soft during rehearsals, according to Charlotte News sports editor Bob Quincy. That's when Gleason requested a more realistic approach. 

"Realism might hurt," cautioned Heidmann.

"Forget the excuses," said Gleason. "Take me down like just as you would any other wrestler."

These were nearly famous last words, as Gleason was unceremoniously dropped on his head, resulting in a severely-sprained neck and a near-miss with a fractured collarbone. 

The resulting guest stars and abnormal shooting schedule the show adopted to accommodate Gleason's recovery reportedly cost the network upwards of $75,000.

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11 Comments

BrittReid 21 days ago
Ralph vs The Bronx Bomber Harvey.
CaptainDunsel 21 days ago
That would be about $855,678.31 today. One expensive skit!
Coldnorth CaptainDunsel 10 days ago
I like the .31
My laugh for the day. Thanks
Runeshaper 22 days ago
Well, Gleason got what he asked for. I'm glad he wasn't seriously hurt, of course.
cperrynaples 22 days ago
Not the last time that happened! I remembered that in the '90's the late comedian Richard Belzer hosted a talk show where Hulk Hogan put him in a sleeper hold! Belzer had to go to a hospital and ended up suing Hogan for pain and suffering!
Remember Andy Kaufman's and Jerry Lawler's wrestling stunts ?
Bapa1 22 days ago
Did Gleason go into his 'really in pain' bit?
Coldnorth Bapa1 10 days ago
To me, when he acts like he’s in pain is the funniest part of the show
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