Art Cervi, The Man Behind 'Bozo The Clown,' Dies At 86

Art Cervi, The Man Behind 'Bozo The Clown,' Dies At 86

He played the character from 1967 till 1980, switching networks in betweem. The kids loved Bozo the clown.

Image source: "I Did What"/Book cover of Art Cervi

When Art Cervi was offered to play the part of Bozo the clown, he was told it would be for 30 days. He had incredible success in his new role as he connected with kids. So much that he played the role for the next decade and a half. Art Cervi, who entertained different generations of people, in Detroit, through the '60s and '70s passed away at the age of 86 at his home, on Monday, reported Detroit Free Press. Art Cervi was a talent coordinator for the Channel 9 dance show Swingin’ Time, but his biggest success came from playing the role of Bozo the clown. Hidden behind clown paint and a red bulbous nose, Art Cervi, played the character that children found relatable.



No one knew the name Art Cervi or the man behind the costume, but they knew Bozo the clown and loved him. Cervi played the character, Bozo the clown, from 1967 until finally retiring his clown costume in 1980. He played the character from 1967 until 1975 on Channel 9 (CKLW-TV) and then on Channel 2 (WJBK-TV) till 1980, when he stopped playing the character. Initially, Channel 9 had trouble finding the right man for the gig. Jerry Booth, who became famous as Jingles the Jester, played the role for a while but his heart wasn't in it, and it showed. A replacement for Booth quit after just one day. Those tasked with hiring the actor to play Bozo pushed Cervi to audition. "They kept hounding me because I worked so well with kids. They kept telling me it’d take maybe 15 minutes. So I put the suit on, cut a tape, and forgot about it," he once said.



They decided to take a gamble on Cervi, but only because of the lack of options in front of them. The person hiring him told him, "I don’t know what we’re going to do with you. You are, by far, the best of all the candidates. But you have the least on-camera experience. Let’s try this for 30 days." He would go on to wear the bulbous red nose on this face for the next decade and a half, becoming Detroit’s longest-running Bozo the Clown. "When Bozo began, there were cartoons and no audience," said Cervi at the time. "Now, there’s an audience, no cartoons and Bozo does slapstick." He maintains what drew kids to Bozo the clown was how he was relatable for them. "The biggest key to Bozo is that he is a friend. Kids relate to him," he added. One of his main aims was to teach kids respect by respecting them. "I teach love and respect," he said simply.


Cervi took to the role like a duck to water. He invested himself in the role and commanded huge audiences making him one of the biggest stars in Detroit TV history. He wanted to maintain the illusion of Bozo the clown being a separate entity in the eyes of the kids who adored Bozo. As a result, he demanded a clause be written into his contract, stating that he be chauffeured to the station in full gear, so kids would never see Bozo without his clown regalia. Ed Golick, curator of the detroitkidshow.com site said that Cervi was passionate about what he did and really enjoyed it. "That wasn’t always true with everybody who played the character. Some of these guys looked like they wanted to be anywhere but out in front of the kids. Art enjoyed that."


Cervi, who was born in Mount Pleasant, New York, played a major role in guiding the musical tastes through a teen dance show, which was also the initiation to the rock era for many. He developed the program Swingin’ Time along with disc jockey Robin Seymour at the time and the dance program aired six afternoons a week on Channel 9 in Windsor. He also hosted a radio show about cars titled Let's Talk Cars after wrapping up his TV career. He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Suzanne, and his children Mike, Nick, Jon, and Patricia.

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