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‘One of a kind’: Las Vegas comic, a headliner for 50 years, dies

Updated June 8, 2024 - 10:15 am

Cork Proctor would occasionally make a comment only a veteran Las Vegas comedian could relate to. Such as, “I’m working for the door, halfway to Kingman.”

That meant Proctor was taking the ticket sales, with no advance guarantee, for a show in 2011 at Railroad Pass. The landmark hotel-casino is about 25 miles southeast of the Strip on I-11, on the way to Kingman, but not actually halfway.

“It’s 11 bucks, I think, after fees,” Proctor said at the time. “It’s nothing.”

The edgy and fast-response comic, whose stage career spanned more than a half-century, died Thursday. He was 91. Proctor’s ex-wife and writing collaborator, Carolyn V. Hamilton, announced Proctor’s passing Friday on Facebook.

Entirely in character, Proctor’s final words were a joke conveyed by his ex-wife, to tell the public she was tired of him and smothered him to death with her big breasts.

Proctor and Hamilton had moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, about 10 years ago. His former housemate in Las Vegas, Norm Johnson, had spoken to Proctor about a month ago.

“Cork was always in good shape and he loved to go for walks,” Johnson said. “But the last time I talked to him, he said he was not healthy enough to go on his walks. I knew then he was not in good health. He was such a great man, a great roommate, as funny off the stage as he was on it.”

“Cork was a great guy, a great friend for a long, long time, and a really funny individual,” his contemporary Pete Barbutti said Friday afternoon. “He didn’t really have material, but got laughs through his delivery. He had really great timing, and if you ever wanted to ask Cork how he was doing, you better have the weekend blocked off, because he was a real talker.”

No small statement from Barbutti, a master monologist.

Proctor worked the lounge circuit in Las Vegas and Reno beginning in the 1970s, when he opened for such stars of the era as the Supremes, Donna Fargo, Captain and Tennille, Lee Greenwood and Mel Tillis.

He began his career as a Reno musician, as an expert drummer and showman. From 1965 to 1970, he headlined with the Winners, which performed in the Silver Dollar Bar at Reno’s Harold’s Club. In those days he hosted a late-night movie show on KOLO Channel 8 in Reno.

Proctor’s Vegas debut was at the Frontier in 1973. He would go on to perform at such Vegas haunts as the Dunes, Riviera, Tropicana, Gold Coast, South Point and Sahara.

His final Sahara show was less than a year before the hotel closed for renovations to SLS Las Vegas. The booking was a coming-home event for Proctor. He had worked as a lifeguard at the hotel soon after it opened in 1955. The lifeguard post was Proctor’s first job after being discharged from the Navy.

He loved the hotel, and Vegas, in its golden lounge era, watching Louis Prima and Keely Smith, or the Mary Kaye Trio, for hours after his shift. “This was a great joint,” he said. “Every night was New Year’s Eve.”

Proctor’s family moved to Las Vegas in the 1940s after his early years in his native Wisconsin. He was a genuine Vegas product, until he and Carolyn moved to Ecuador. The couple worked together as co-authors, on “My Mind is An Open Mouth: A Life Behind the Mic,” ‘Rimshot: A Vintage Las Vegas Comedian’s Favorite Jokes & Anecdotes, Volume 1,” and “Rimshot, Vol. 2: More Of a Vintage Las Vegas Comedian’s Favorite Jokes and Anecdotes.”

Proctor once talked of his difficulty in finding a steady home to perform in Vegas.

“Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m too clean,” he said. “The funny thing is, I never was a working drunk or drug addict. That’s why I’m still able to work today. Of course, I chased a lot of women and had a great time with that.”

Barbutti still laughs Proctor’s wit.

“He was very irreverent,” Barbutti said. “He was one of a kind, a real character in this city’s history.”

Donations in Proctor’s name are being accepted at in the name of Kristhel Mogollon, to help the Ecuadorian teenager fund her education to become a neurologist. Go to gofundme.com to support.

Cool Hang Alert

“Hidarius Mondays” starring veteran comic/actor Darius McCrary returns at 8 p.m. Monday to Cork and Thorn at 70 west Imperial Avenue in the Arts District. McCrary played Eddie Winslow on the ABC/CBS television sitcom “Family Matters” from 1989–1998.

McCrary hosts this once-per-month show at Randi Garrett’s chic nightlife haunt, tucked away just a few cartwheels wet of Main Street. A $40 ticket, and comics rotate every month. Go to eventbrite.com and search “Hidarius” and you’re there.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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