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Storytelling comedian Ron Shock dies from cancer at 69

Ron Shock, a Las Vegas-based comedian known for long-form storytelling usually based on his colorful past, died Thursday of urethral cancer. He was 69.

The Texas native lived in Las Vegas since 1990 (interrupted by a few years in California) and was a favorite headliner in comedy clubs on the Strip and around the country.

In early January, Shock announced to fans on his website and Facebook page that he had been diagnosed with “a very rare and aggressive form of cancer.”

Exploratory surgery followed at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which determined the urethral cancer had spread so much his subsequent chemotherapy treatments were long shots at success.

A storyteller to the end, Shock kept fans posted on his ordeal through a series of video blogs. In Shock’s last public appearance, Brad Garrett singled out the comedian for a special introduction on the opening night in March of his Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand.

Shock was a comedian’s comedian, one who spent much of his career in the frustrating “almost famous” position of watching many of his friends and Texas peers – Brett Butler, Ron White and the late Bill Hicks – go on to wider fame. White noted in a 2006 interview that it was Shock’s comedy CDs he listened to on his tour bus.

Shock’s narratives, delivered in a slow Texas drawl, stood out from the standard-issue club headliner.

“Most people are used to the TV comedy method of one joke every 18 seconds,” he explained to the Review-Journal’s Michael Paskevich in 1992. “And that’s why it’s not funny. … There’s no time for anything to develop.

His approach was to “win them over in the first part of the act so they agree I’m funny and that it’s worth listening to. Every bit in the first 20 minutes gets a little longer than the last one.”

A good percentage of his stories came from his own life, one that included jail, the military, multiple marriages and a variety of businesses – from encyclopedia salesman to the corporate world – before he embraced stand-up comedy at age 40.

He credited character actor Hayden Rorke for coaxing him to the stage.

“Dr. Bellows prescribed comedy,” he told the Review-Journal last year, referring to Rorke’s best-known role on the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” “And it was like a light shone on me and said, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do.’ ”

Shock became part of the “outlaw comic” wave spearheaded by Hicks at Houston’s Comedy Workshop in the 1980s. But Shock moved to Las Vegas in 1990 more as a poker enthusiast.

“I came to Vegas because I wanted to, not because I thought it could help my career. I didn’t even know they had comedy clubs here,” he noted in 1992.

Shock had all the breaks that usually push a comedian to the next level, including a spot on “The Tonight Show” and a Showtime special, “Bad Gig Blues,” taped at Bally’s in 1993. A move to California to realize his dream of shaping his comedy into a more theatrical work came to at least partial fruition, with a self-booked run at the Century City Playhouse in 1997.

In June 1999, Shock was so known and respected among entertainers that they staged a benefit concert at the Riviera to offset medical expenses for Shock’s then-wife Ellen Harrington, after she was critically injured the year before in a California automobile crash.

She eventually died of complications from her injuries and Shock moved back to Las Vegas, where he married his wife Rhonda, who survives him.

“I didn’t get rich and famous,” he said last year, “but I do what I love.”

Shock was born in Albuquerque, N.M., on Oct. 19, 1942. He is survived by his wife, Rhonda, four children and nine grandchildren. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Nathan Adelson Hospice.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at
mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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