Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky; February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television and film actor, and violinist. Recognized as a leading American entertainer of the 20th century, Benny portrayed his character as a miser, playing his violin badly. In character, he would claim to be 39 years of age, regardless of his actual age.
Benny was known for comic timing and the ability to cause laughter with a pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature exasperated "Well!" His radio and television programs, popular from 1932 until his death in 1974, were a major influence on the sitcom genre.
In October 1974, Benny cancelled a performance in Dallas after suffering a dizzy spell, coupled with numbness in his arms. Despite a battery of tests, Benny's ailment could not be determined. When he complained of stomach pains in early December, a first test showed nothing, but a subsequent one showed he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Benny went into a coma at home on December 22, 1974.:293–294 While in a coma, he was visited by close friends including George Burns, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson and John Rowles. He died on December 26, 1974 at age 80. At the funeral George Burns, Benny's best friend for more than fifty years, attempted to deliver a eulogy but broke down shortly after he began and was unable to continue. Bob Hope also delivered a eulogy in which he stated, "For a man who was the undisputed master of comedy timing, you would have to say this is the only time when Jack Benny's timing was all wrong. He left us much too soon." He was interred in a crypt at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. As a tribute to his skinflint stage persona, visitors often leave pennies on his crypt. Benny's will arranged for a single long-stemmed red rose, to be delivered to his widow, Mary Livingstone, every day for the rest of her life. Livingstone died nine years later on June 30, 1983.
In trying to explain his successful life, Benny summed it up by stating "Everything good that happened to me happened by accident. I was not filled with ambition nor fired by a drive toward a clear-cut goal. I never knew exactly where I was going.":301
Upon his death, his family donated to UCLA his personal, professional, and business papers, as well as a collection of his television shows. The university established the Jack Benny Award in his honor in 1977 to recognize outstanding people in the field of comedy. Johnny Carson was the first award recipient. Benny also donated a Stradivarius violin (purchased in 1957) to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Benny had commented, "If it isn't a $30,000 Strad, I'm out $120."