LOS ANGELES-Actor Ted Knight, a Plymouth, Conn., native who won two Emmy awards as the pompous and dimwitted newscaster Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," died Tuesday. He was 62.
Knight, who also starred in "Too Close for Comfort," died at his Pacific Palisades home with his wife and three children at his side, said Sol Leon, Knight's agent.
The actor died of cancer, said Knight spokeswoman Vanita Cillo.
Knight was hospitalized last year for removal of a cancerous growth from his urinary tract. Earlier this month, he returned to the hospital for treatment of complications from that surgery.
His doctors ordered him not to return to work because he was not fully recovered from the surgery, Henri Bollinger, a spokesman for Knight, said after the actor was released from the hospital a few weeks ago.
He was born Dec. 7, 1923, as Tadeus Konopka on Allen Street in the Terryville section of Plymouth, the son of a Polish immigrant bartender and a housewife. He changed his name not long after graduating from Terryville High School in 1943. After graduating, Knight fought in World War II and was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter Berlin.
In 1984, his favorite Plymouth school teacher, Lucy Dukenski, flew to Los Angeles to appear with Knight when he was honored on the television program "This Is Your Life." Miss Dukenski now retired and living in Stratford, had forgotten about Knight until 1972, when she read a story that mentioned his real name.
She wrote to him and they exchanged letters and Christmas cards for years afterward.
"I can't believe it," Miss Dukenski said Tuesday when she learned of the actor's death. "He was such a prince of a guy." She said Knight told her he had a crush on her as a schoolboy and referred to her as "the first love of my life."
Knight was a boyhood friend of Charles Freimuth Jr., the town's former fire chief, who visited him in Los Angeles in 1984. At the time Knight said he'd try to return to his birthplace to serve as grand marshal of the Plymouth Fire Department's 75th anniversary parade this year.
Matilda Levandoski of Plymouth, the actor's cousin, said he was last in Terryville in 1978. She said his relatives in the Plymouth area knew he was ill and were planning to visit him in September.
Knight won Emmys in 1973 and 1976 for outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role in comedy for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
[Ted Knight and Mary Tyler Moore in rehearsal in 1977 for the award-winning "The Mary Tyler Moore" show]
He played Roger Dennis, owner of a New York City escort service, in "The Ted Knight Show," in the spring of 1978 on CBS. He also played a middleaged illustrator from 198083 on ABC's "Too Close for Comfort."
He starred with Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase in the 1980 movie "Caddyshack," a farce about a golf tournament.
"Too Close For Comfort," in syndication, had been scheduled to start filming a new season the middle of this month to reappear as "The Ted Knight Show." It was put on hold after Knight said he could not return said Leon.
Knight launched his acting career at the Randall School of Dramatic Arts in Hartford, performing in productions of "Liliom," "Grand Hotel," "Antigone" and "Time of Your Life."
He became a disc jockey, announcer, singer, master of ceremonies, ventriloquist, puppeteer and pantomimist in North Carolina, Rhode Island and New York before moving to New York City for further training at The American Theater Wing.
Between classes, he appeared on radio and television shows such as "Big Town," "Suspense" and "Lux Video Theater."
In 1957, Knight moved to Los Angeles and appeared in hundreds of commercials and television shows including "Gunsmoke," "The F.B.I.," and "Get Smart."
Knight was best known for his portrayal of Baxter, the arrogant, vain nincompoop on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" from 1970 to 1977. But it was an image he wanted to dump.
"I've really wanted to shake Ted Baxter," Knight said in 1981. "People want to see that character. Ted Baxter gave the whole world a superiority complex."
Larry Bloustein, vice president for publicity at Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises, said there would be no comment from Miss Moore.
"We are terribly private about this sort of thing," said Bloustein.
Grant Tinker, who was head of MTM Enterprises when it produced "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," said: "I really loved Ted Baxter and Ted Knight all together. I loved them both. They gave so many of us so many great laughs."
Knight said one of the reasons he took the role in "Too Close For Comfort" was to shed the Ted Baxter image.
"I would have an opportunity to do something more than the onedimensional character that Ted was," he said. "He was limited in that he could never display any intelligence. He was always the butt of the jokes. One of his charms was that he was never a threat to anybody.
"I used to worry about what effect that would have on my children, being the butt of all the jokes. But it didn't have any effect."
Of the first "Ted Knight Show," which began immediately after "Mary Tyler Moore," and folded after a month, he said, "That came too soon after Mary and it showed my character as someone the brass considered a little shady.
"I played the owner of an escort service. It smacked too much of night life and the seamy side. It wasn't in keeping with the image I wanted to project."
His was one of many careers helped by "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Among those who starred on the show were Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Georgia Engel, Ed Asner and Gavin McLeod.
Knight and his wife of more than 30 years, Dorothy, who is director and treasurer of the PricePottenger Nutrition Foundation, have two sons and daughter. All three were at their mother's home Tuesday evening, said Leon.
A private funeral will be held Friday in the Los Angeles area. The family is asking that memorial contributions be sent to the PricePottenger Foundation for the Ted Knight Memorial Fund, a funding source for films on children's nutrition and natural lifestyles. The address is P.O. Box 2614, La Mesa, Cal. 92041.
[Waterbury Republican, Wednesday, August 27, 1986]