Pat Cooper, Comedian of Outrage, Is Dead at 93

Pat Cooper, the stand-up comic who made outrage his act, progressing from mocking Italian American families like his own to publicly insulting celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Howard Stern, died on Tuesday night at his home in Las Vegas. He was 93.

The death was announced in a statement by his wife, Emily Conner.

For more than 50 years, Mr. Cooper, clad in a tuxedo and Clark Kent spectacles, ranted comedically about his background, his family, the people who he felt had wronged him and just about anything else that bothered him.

He developed the act, laced with sound effects, in small clubs in Baltimore and New York in the 1950s, and it proved a novelty at the time, when there were far more Jewish than Italian American comedians making jokes about their families and their culture.

He broke through with an appearance on “The Jackie Gleason Show” in 1963, then became a regular opening act for entertainers like Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. at clubs and casinos, including the Copacabana in Manhattan and the Sands in Las Vegas. He appeared on television shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Dean Martin and Mike Douglas, and released several albums, most memorably “Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights” (1966).

The title of that album was a parody of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” (1965), whose cover depicted a woman apparently clothed only in whipped cream. Mr. Cooper’s cover depicted him slathered in marinara sauce, apparently naked but for a mound of spaghetti.

“I got a genuine Italian mother — four feet eleven,” Mr. Cooper said during a typical routine, included on his album “Our Hero” (1965). “She has a bun over here, knitting needle over here, gold tooth over here, mole over here.”

“She says, ‘Put garlic around your neck, it keeps away the evil spirits,’” he continued. “I ain’t got no friends, what spirits?”

Audiences laughed at the Italian stereotypes, but an Italian American anti-defamation group did not get the joke and threatened to sue him. (No suit was ever filed.)

Mr. Cooper’s act had dire consequences in his personal life. He became estranged from his parents and siblings, then from his first wife, Dolores Nola, and his children. He said they could not stand his success.

“The only way I can beat them, I made fun of them,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview for this obituary in 2014.

Later in his career he let the world know when he thought that stars had wronged him. In “How Dare You Say How Dare Me!” (2011), a memoir he wrote with Rich Herschlag and Steve Garrin, he accused Paul Anka of never saying hello when they did more than 50 shows together and then firing him for bringing it up. He claimed that an inebriated Johnny Carson once urinated on his foot in a men’s room, and that after loudly objecting with an expletive, he was not invited back on Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

Another time, opening onstage for Sinatra, Sinatra asked him to remove a joke from his set. As Mr. Cooper told The Daily News of New York in 1997, he replied, “Hey, Frank, do I tell you what songs to sing?” Sinatra fired him.

During an interview with the talk show host Tom Snyder on NBC in 1981, Mr. Cooper castigated Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett and Lola Falana, saying they did not treat their opening acts respectfully. When Mr. Snyder asked whether Mr. Cooper might be jealous, he denied it. “I want to stop the nonsense of some of the stars in my business who think they own a Pat Cooper,” he said.

“We’re comics,” he added. “We’re not dogs.”

His agent called him afterward and told him that he was finished in show business. But Mr. Cooper disagreed, and the episode actually raised his profile.

“Everybody thought I lost my career — I raised my price!” he said in the 2014 interview. “In those days that was a terrible thing to say, what I did. Now it’s a reality show!”

Howard Stern, drawn to Mr. Cooper’s vitriol, invited him on his radio show in the mid-1980s. But perhaps predictably they had a falling-out. Mr. Stern put Mr. Cooper’s estranged son, Michael, and his former wife on the air, and Mr. Cooper refused to interact with them. Then Mr. Cooper began berating Mr. Stern. Mr. Stern stopped having him on the show.

Mr. Cooper continued performing at clubs and casinos and at Friars Club roasts until he retired in 2012. And he continued to insist that the industry had treated him poorly. “They don’t want me because I say what’s on my mind,” he said, “and they punish it.”

Pasquale Vito Caputo was born on July 31, 1929, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and raised in the Midwood and Red Hook sections of the borough. His father, Michele, was a bricklayer, and his mother, Louise (Gargiulo) Caputo, was a homemaker. He did not have a happy childhood.

“I think I broke a record in my neighborhood — I think I must have run away 14 times,” he said. “People don’t run away from good homes.”

He tried to escape, seeking to join the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy, but he was rejected from each branch because of “hammerhead toes,” he wrote in his memoir. He was drafted into the Army in 1952 and stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., but he was soon discharged, because of his disruptive behavior, according to Mr. Cooper.

He then returned to New York, where he married Ms. Nola and had two children with her. He also began developing his act while supporting himself by driving a cab. “I was a stand-up comic who happened to be sitting down at the time,” he said.

Mr. Cooper Americanized his name while performing in the Catskills in the early 1960s, a decision that further infuriated his family. The Oxford English Dictionary says that he coined the term “Bada-bing,” heard during a routine titled “An Italian Wedding” on the “Our Hero” album. (Mr. Cooper himself did not claim authorship.)

He went on to appear alongside Robert De Niro as a mobster in the hit comedy “Analyze This” (1999) and its sequel, “Analyze That” (2002), which also starred Billy Crystal; and alongside many other comedians in “The Aristocrats” (2005), the acclaimed documentary about the world’s dirtiest joke.

Mr. Cooper’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1961. He almost never saw his children, Michael and Louise Caputo, again. Michael Caputo wrote a book about their poor relationship and appeared on the talk show “Geraldo” in 1990 to discuss what he saw as his father’s neglect.

Mr. Cooper called in to “Geraldo” to argue that he was not at fault, and to castigate his son.

“Let me tell you something, I don’t have to be your father, you’re not that thrilling,” Mr. Cooper said, adding, “And I don’t want to be your father.”

The show’s host, Geraldo Rivera, interrupted him, saying: “Pat, enough, enough. You’re upsetting me even.”

Mr. Cooper’s second wife, the singer Patti Del Prince, died of cancer in 2005. He married Ms. Conner in 2018. In addition to her, he is survived by his children from his first marriage as well as a daughter from his second marriage, Patti Jo Weidenfeld; three sisters, Grace Ferrara, Carol Caputo and Marie Caputo Mangano; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Cooper said his son Michael had tried to reconcile with him over the years. He remained uninterested.

“He said, ‘Well, now I want’ — what’s it? — ‘closure,’” Mr. Cooper said. “I said, ‘Well, then get a closet.’”

Daniel E. Slotnik is a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk and a 2020 New York Times reporting fellow. @DSlotnik

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