Otto Petersen, whose foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy George made his act “Otto & George” a popular friend of the Opie & Anthony radio program, reportedly died in his sleep. He was 53.
The sad news was reported this morning on SiriusXM’s The Opie & Anthony Show.
Petersen almost died last year, going into a coma for a week after a case of bacterial meningitis. As he told O&A afterward, he’d mistakenly taken illegal painkillers to treat an inner ear infection — he’d suffered ear aches often as a child, but nothing recently until then. “I was never sick before. It just came out of nowhere,” Petersen said last September. “People die from what I had. But fuck it! I got lucky. But I don’t see a new world. I didn’t gain that wisdom from a brush with death. It’s just — I feel like I’m going to go through this again, and it’ll fucking do me in next time. I’ll live to die another day. Like cynical about it.”
Once upon a time, I was a 7 year old boy called Otto Petersen living in place called Staten Island. I was watching my favorite daytime children’s show, Winchell Mahoney Time. Two puppets called Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff fascinated me. I knew there and then…That’s the job for me.
I got a Danny O’Day doll – the kind with a string sticking out of the back of his neck that opens his mouth. He lives in a suitcase in my closet until this very day. But still something was wrong…I needed a real wooden boy like Geppedo…Not a boy with wood like Michael Jackson.There once was a really cool Magic store at 1540 Broadway in the middle of Times Square called Louis Tannen’s. It was up on the 17th floor. There was George, locked in a glass cabinet. He was $350 and he had to be mine.It took about 5 months performing with the plastic doll which I now called Chester, to raise the loot (with some help from my mom and two uncles). Finally, I got the first real puppet and never looked back. I have had 1 job in my life. Three weeks I worked in the garment district in NYC. Three weeks, that’s no lie.
George, the way he looks now is pretty similar to that doll I bought in 1974. Central Park, Wall Street, Staten Island Ferry, Greenwich Village and Broadway…I did outdoor shows and passed the hat for years. In Central Park one Sunday, I had john Lennon in my audience. He waited until the crowd dispersed to say to me ‘the puppet is funnier, here’s two dollars. Give George $1.50…you keep the rest’. What a thrill, making a Beatle laugh! Those were fun times.From the street to clubs all over the USA and Canada, I’ve been everywhere, man.There’s also been lots of TV and radio. Big radio – Stern, Opie & Anthony – I like them both. They are all funny guys and you can listen to both. End of story.In the beginning, there were street shows. I always felt that if all the comedy clubs closed down for some reason, I would go back to busking and pick up where I left off in 1980! Of course I would have to go G-Rated, and that would suck Rhino Cock!
Otto & George made an appearance on the documentary, The Aristocrats. Even in an obviously NSFW movie about the most infamously NSFW joke, Otto, paired with George, found a new spin on it.
He also could be TV clean, too, though — performing on the Late Show with David Letterman during “Ventriloquism Week” in 2007:
Here’s an interview Otto Petersen gave in 2012 with Conor Murphy in Ireland where you to hear a bit more about his background, inspirations and career aspirations.
Otto was still performing just this past weekend, online posting photos of himself with his funny friends (this shot reposted last Wednesday of himself with Robert Kelly, Tracy Morgan, Bob Saget and Bill Burr).
And on Friday night, Otto and George was headlining a benefit show for someone else.
As The Opie & Anthony Show just shared on Twitter this morning: “Our friend, Otto Petersen. God bless you.”
Petersen also had submitted a couple of columns this spring to The Interrobang, which posthumously published one of them today: “These Comedians Changed My Life.” In which Petersen expresses his admiration for Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. He wrote: “When I was a kid old comedians and monster movies is what fed me. I have a dummy, George, and it’s a comedy team. So in my own way I’m part of this tradition. I have never had a day job and have been working since I’m 14, and I’m working now. So my life was changed by seeing people like Laurel & Hardy on TV and saying ‘Wow, those guys actually lived once’.”
Rest in peace, Otto & George.