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Bill Skiles, was in comic duo

By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times / May 20, 2011

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NEW YORK — Bill Skiles, the frenzied, jabbering, sound-effecting clown to the straight man Pete Henderson in the comedy team Skiles and Henderson, died Monday at his home in St. Cloud, Fla. He was 79.

The cause was cancer.

For more than 50 years — in nightclubs and concert halls, on television and, in recent years, on cruise ships — Mr. Skiles amused audiences with his vocally produced steam whistles, bagpipes, animal sounds, a grinding gramophone, and impressions of famous people, as Henderson egged him on.

Anything he touched could be a prop: A mike stand became a metal detector, drumsticks became chopsticks, a bow tie started an outboard motor.

“We weren’t punch-line people,’’ Henderson said Wednesday. “It was ad-libbing, very visual, and Bill was like something someone had left running.’’

Their antics fueled an enduring run, starting in 1958 when they were booked at Disneyland: singing, dancing, and playing homemade instruments like a tin-can xylophone, a washtub bass, and tuned skillets. Mr. Skiles’s father had built and played those instruments with his vaudeville band, the Bob Skiles Haywire Orchestra, in the 1930s.

Over the years, Skiles and Henderson appeared on television shows hosted by Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, David Frost, and Merv Griffin.

Skiles and Henderson last performed in March 2010, with a 27-show run in Arizona.