Updated June 7, 2023 - 6:45 pm
Pat Cooper was a bombastic, boundless comic who became the friend and contemporary of legends.
The stand-up performer out of Brooklyn who launched his Las Vegas career some 60 years ago died peacefully at his Las Vegas home Tuesday night, his wife, Emily Conner, announced Wednesday morning. Cooper was 93.
“He did his best and always strove for perfection,” Emily said. “But whether he obtained it was immaterial. As long as he remained loyal to himself, his personal character, convictions and dreams, he was satisfied.”
Cooper’s high-volume, rapid-fire delivery often seemed as angry as funny. He once described that characteristic as “lovable anger.”
Cooper was the son of a bricklayer from Mole Di Bare, Italy, and an Italian-American mother, born under the legal name Pasquale Caputo. He began performing in clubs in his 20s.
In 1963, he landed a spot on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” leading to appearances at the Copacabana, opening for acts such as the Four Seasons and Jimmy Roselli, with whom he also shared billing in 1969 on Broadway at The Palace Theater in a first-time Italian duo Broadway engagement.
Cooper arrived in Las Vegas the year he appeared with Gleason. He first opened at the Flamingo for Bobby Darin. Cooper went on to open 56 shows for Frank Sinatra at the Sands.
Cooper enjoyed his peak of fame in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, sharing marquees with such Vegas superstars as Sinatra, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. He played the showrooms at such legendary Strip resorts as the Sands, Riviera, Caesars Palace, Flamingo and Sahara, and recorded several best-selling comedy albums.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) July 15, 2019
Cooper’s 1965 album “Our Hero” was among the earliest to draw comedy material from Italian-American culture. Billboard said of the album, “It does for the Italian-American community what Jackie Mason did for the Jewish-American community.” Cooper soon released the strong follow-up, “Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights.”
The list of Cooper’s friends and fellow headliners over the years seems endless. He worked alongside George Burns, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles Dean Martin, Perry Como, Sergio Franchi, Tony Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Al Martino, Jerry Vale, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Dionne Warwick, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, and many more in many national venues. He was a popular talk-show guest in his peak, especially “The Mike Douglas Show” in the ’70s.
Into his latter years, Cooper remained a great fan of comics and classic entertainers. His last performances in Vegas were at the Tropicana in the late 1990s. He visited with Sebastian Maniscalco on his headlining performances at Wynn Las Vegas in 2019. He hung with Shecky Greene and in Las Vegas.
Cooper often opened shows in his later years with, “Welcome to the end of my career in show business,” which always drew a laugh.
Cooper was also a strong actor, his personality taking over scenes he worked with superstars. He appeared in the sitcom “Seinfeld” and the “Analyze This/Analyze That” film series opposite Robert De Niro. He appeared in Penn Jillette’s 2005 joke-telling documentary “The Aristocrats,” and was a guest of Howard Stern in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Cooper was known as a master roaster, usually called upon to close the night because nobody wanted to follow his flame-throwing material. The “Seinfeld” episode in which he played himself was titled, “The Friars Club,” one of Cooper’s favorite haunts.
Cooper ad-libbed an exchange with Jason Alexander, as George Costanza, after Jerry loses his Friars Club jacket loaned to him for entry.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) July 15, 2019
Cooper chides Seinfeld for losing the jacked. Costanza steps in, trying to confirm Jerry’s version of the story. Cooper shot at Costanza, “Excuse me, are you an entertainer? Are you in show business?”
Costanza answers, “No, I, uh …” And Cooper counters, “Then what am I talking to you for?”
Cooper landed the scene in one take, then went home.
Cooper is survived by Emily; one son, Michael Caputo; two daughters, Louise Caputo and Patti Jo Weidenfeld; and several grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Patti Del Prince Cooper.
Cooper was feted on his 90th birthday in July 2019, at the Italian American Club. Legendary impressionist Rich Little; legendary storyteller Pete Barbutti; Vegas vocalist and talk-show host Dennis Bono and his wife, Lorraine Hunt-Bono; longtime Vegas entertainer and F.I.O.R.E. (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events) Nelson Sardelli; Vinny Adinolfi of Bronx Wanderers; comic/songwriter/musician Dennis Blair and crooner Carmine Mandia celebrated the comedy great.
Emily had mentioned in her toast to her husband that she’d recently gotten something in her eye while swimming in the couple’s pool. Emily remarked that Cooper was there to wash her eyes out, then glowered, “Don’t ever open your eyes in the pool! What’s down there is none of your business!”
The comedian then took the mic, tellig the crowd how much he loved Emily, whom he referred to as “Lady,” and said, “I love you dearly, you’re a good person, but tonight you did something — you stole my material!”
Near the end of the night, I asked Cooper for his secret to a long life.
“Remember to pick up the tab once in a while,” Cooper said, raising his voice to be heard over his friends. “Do that because someone has picked up the tab for you.”
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Pat’s name to Shriners Hospitals for Children or the Neon Museum Las Vegas.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.