Kevin Knox, at 54; called the ‘Wild Man of Comedy’

By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2009

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Kevin Knox made comedy club audiences laugh for three decades with his rapid-fire send-ups of the common man’s battles with vices, cars, and relationships.

“Kevin was so funny,’’ said comedian Lenny Clarke, who first put Mr. Knox on stage in the 1980s at the long-gone incubator of local comedy, the Ding Ho in Cambridge. “You might be shocked by what he was saying, but you laughed like hell.’’

Mr. Knox - a Tyngsborough native who performed regularly at clubs in Boston, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City - died of melanoma Monday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 54.

Clarke said Mr. Knox was known for his positive energy and love of life. “My life is better for having known this guy,’’ Clarke said during a break in taping for the FX Networks show “Rescue Me.’’ “He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.’’

Mr. Knox appeared on an early episode of “Rescue Me.’’ He also appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!’’

Diagnosed with stage four cancer almost six years ago, Mr. Knox opted against traditional cancer treatments because he saw the toll chemotherapy had taken on his parents and a sister, all of whom died of cancer, he said in a 2008 interview with Men’s Health. He turned to holistic therapies, including an organic vegetarian diet, and lived far longer than doctors had predicted, relatives said.

Boston comics rallied around Mr. Knox. Dick Doherty turned “Dick’s Beantown Comedy Vault’’ on Mondays at Remington’s restaurant into a benefit for Mr. Knox, whose holistic therapies were not covered by insurance.

“I actually feel like George Bailey from [the popular holiday movie] ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ’’ Mr. Knox told the Globe in 2005. “It’s just like Kevin Knox, the richest man in town.’’

Doherty called him the “kindest man in comedy.’’ The two joked about Mr. Knox’s cancer fight. Doherty would feign exasperation every time Mr. Knox answered the phone.

“You’re still here?’’ Doherty would say and then described the comedy bits he was going to steal once Mr. Knox kicked the bucket.

Mr. Knox, whom many friends called Knoxie, billed himself as “The Wild Man of Comedy.’’ Earlier in his career, he was known for his tennis pro good looks and a blond mane styled into a mullet.

His longtime friend, comedian Steve Sweeney, recalled an appearance they made at the Kernwood Country Club in Salem, where the show’s organizer repeatedly sought Sweeney’s reassurance that the show would be clean.

Mr. Knox “gets up on stage and within two minutes, the F-bombs are flying,’’ Sweeney said. “I wanted to kill him.’’

He called Mr. Knox “one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had in my life.’’

“It’s a funny business,’’ Sweeney said. “You’re up there by yourself. You really need emotional support, especially in the beginning. . . . You never doubted for one second he was on your side.’’

In October, Mr. Knox married his longtime girlfriend, Sharon (Saulenas). Their years together “were filled with a lot of joy,’’ she said. “Kevin and I practiced living in the moment. That is how we got to enjoy life despite cancer.“

Mr. Knox graduated from Tyngsborough High School. He ventured into performing in the 1970s by doing impressions and singing. He enjoyed tennis, golf, and competing in triathlons.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Lowell University in the late 1970s. He quickly discovered comedy was his calling and briefly sold used cars.

His Boston manager - Mike Clarke, who owns Giggles - recalled Mr. Knox arriving at comedy nights wearing the suit and tie he wore to sell cars.

“Kevin just lived life as a happy, happy guy,’’ Clarke said. “He was full of energy. He loved to perform and make people laugh. No one had the energy level he had.’’

Mr. Knox was a favorite performer at charity fund-raisers. In March, when the headliner for a Dorchester Youth Hockey fund-raiser canceled because his car broke down on the Tobin Bridge, Mr. Knox arrived in 20 minutes to save the show, said his longtime friend and comedy show booker, Ed Regal of Dorchester.

“Kevin walks in wearing a motorcycle jacket and helmet and says: ‘You got a bottle of water? Let’s get this thing wrapped up,’ ’’ Regal said. “I couldn’t have been any more grateful.’’

Mr. Knox refused payment for the show and told Regal to give the check to the headliner, who was married with children, Regal said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Knox leaves two brothers, Michael and Sean of Tyngsborough; and two sisters, Mary Robinson of Merrimack, N.H., and Sheila Cheney of Pelham, N.H.

A date for a celebration of his life will be announced later.