A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 20, 2011
“Dying is easy; comedy is hard” (theatre adage)

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean (17 March 1789 – 15 May 1833) was an English actor, regarded in his time as the greatest ever.
(...)
He died at Richmond, Surrey where he had spent his last years as manager of the local theatre, and was buried in the Parish Church where there is a floor plaque marking his grave and a wall plaque originally on the outside but moved inside and heavily restored during restoration work in 1904. His last words were alleged to be “dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

Wikipedia: Edmund Gwenn
Edmund Gwenn (26 September 1877 – 6 September 1959) was an English theatre and film actor.
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Death
Edmund Gwenn died from pneumonia after suffering a stroke, in Woodland Hills, California, twenty days before his 82nd birthday. According to several sources, his last words, when a friend at his bedside remarked that “It is hard to die,” were: “But it is harder to do comedy.” However, a very similar deathbed saying was earlier attributed to a similarly named 19th-century English actor, Edmund Kean, so the association of the words with Gwenn may be erroneous. Gwenn was cremated and his ashes are stored in the vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles, California. Edmund Gwenn has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street for his contribution to motion pictures.

The Internet Movie Database
Memorable quotes for
My Favorite Year (1982)

Swann: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

10 September 1976, New York (NY) Times, “3 Chances to See the Craft of Comedy” by Walter Kerr, pg. 49:
IN DON WIDENER’S book about Jack Lemmon, succinctly called “Lemmon,” there’s a story about the late and lovely character actor Edmund Gwenn, a story that’s apt to haunt any actor or actress you care to name. Gwenn, ill and out of funds, had finally been persuaded to retire to the Actors’ Home, to which he summoned a close friend, the director George Seaton, one day. Seaton waited a long time before Gwenn opened his eyes and spoke.

“I think I’m going to die,” he confided.

“Yes,” Seaton agreed with quiet candor. “I know.”

“George, I don’t like it, I don’t like it a bit. There is no feeling of peace, no feeling of anticipation. George, it’s awful. It’s frightening and I hate it.”

Seaton, groping for words, tried to soothe the old man by agreeing: “I guess dying can be very hard.”

Gwenn seems to have thought about this for a moment or so, then turned to his friend. “Yes,” he said. “But not as hard as playing comedy.”

According to the author, those were Gwenn’s last words,...

14 November 1982, New York (NY) Times, “Playing Comedy Is No Laughing Matter” by Fred Ferretti, pg. H1:
For those who participated, the jumping-off point was a line from “My Favorite Year,” wherein Peter O’Toole, as an aging and pickled movie star who is trying to survive a live guest appearance on a program very like “Your SHow of SHows,” groans after a particularly trying rehearsal, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”—a remark long attributed to the American actor Edmund Kean:

Carl Reiner: It was Edmund Kean, I think.
Larry Gelbart: In the first place, that’s wrong. It wasn’t Edmund Kean, it was Edmund Gwenn, who was asked on his death bed how he was doing, and he said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

OCLC WorldCat record
ANATOMY OF A LAUGH:"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard”
Author: Jack Neary
Publisher: Cincinnati : National Thespian Dramatic Honor Society for High Schools,
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: Dramatics. 67, no. 5, (1996): 28
Database: ArticleFirst

Google Books
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When

By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
2006
Pg. 49:
DYING is easy. Comedy is hard.”
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Verdict: Invented “last words” making the show business rounds.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Monday, June 20, 2011 • Permalink