The Tragic Life of Paul Lynde

The humorless life of Paul Lynde.
The humorless life of Paul Lynde.
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Bewitched may have magic and witches, but nothing in that show was quite so harrowing as the hard life Paul Lynde lived. To viewers of the supernatural sitcom, he was Uncle Arthur. Throughout his career, everyone knew him loved the humor he brought to every project. But underneath it all, he suffered a lot, both from factors beyond control and things he brought on himself.

How can someone who brought so much laughter to countless Americans not feel such joy himself? This is the case among a surprising amount of entertainers. In Lynde’s case, it came from deep-rooted insecurities that came from even deeper pains from his childhood. Frustration, impatience, grief, jealousy. These defined the life of comedian Paul Lynde.

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Paul Lynde had big dreams of the big screen

Lynde in Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963). More than anything, he wanted to be a beloved, worshipped movie star
Lynde in Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963). More than anything, he wanted to be a beloved, worshipped movie star / Everett Collection

To this day, people hear the name Paul Lynde and feel nostalgic for his work on Bewitched, his voice acting, and his time on The Hollywood Squares. Today, he irrefutably has a beloved legacy. Despite what we feel about him today, however, none of it is what Lynde would have wanted. Cathy Rudolph, a close friend of Lynde, elaborated on it well, stating, “He really wanted to be a movie star; that was his dream. That’s why he bought a house that Errol Flynn once owned – he wanted a home like a movie star should have, but he wasn’t one.”

RELATED: Remembering The Cast Of ‘Bewitched’

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Lynde felt leaning into his biggest TV roles actually kept him from becoming a star of the big screen. Throughout his life, Paul Lynde wanted grand things for himself, put in time, believed he did the necessary effort, but always felt held back. Almost more than a big Hollywood house, Rudolph claimed he really just wanted people to ask for his autograph. In his view, there was no higher honor then getting flocked by adoring fans who wanted his scrawl on a piece of paper.

Paul Lynde spent a life hiding his true self

Paul Lynde battled his weight most of his life
Paul Lynde battled his weight most of his life / YouTube screenshot

Why did Lynd eso adamantly want this potent approval from the masses? Many believe it was to compensate for his childhood spent hiding key parts of himself and feeling ashamed. In his youth, Lynde was overweight. By the time his high school graduation reared, he weighed 250 pounds. So, while his weight became a rollercoaster, Lynde had a spotlight on him – and not remotely how he really wanted one.

Furthermore, Lynde was also gay. Born on June 13, 1926, and active from 1954 to 1982, Lynde lived in a time when members of the queer community had to carefully weigh the risks of coming out. As a result of the stigma, Lynde had to hide a significant part of himself. But why should he? He had big dreams! Likely, he felt the indignity of it all, and his thirst for fame and love tried to offset the fear of rejection. Indeed, Michael Airington, creator and star behind the live Vegas-based The Paul Lynde Show, admitted, “I didn’t realize that he struggled so hard with loneliness and his gayness. He was in love with one guy, but broke his heart, because Paul would go off on tantrums. But that was his only serious relationship.”

Everyone could be a threat

Paul Lynde seemed to live a magical life but it was far from that
Paul Lynde seemed to live a magical life but it was far from that / Screen Gems

Throughout his life, Paul Lynde faced threats – some real, some perceived, some made by his own doing – from shocking sources. His dear friend Cathy Rudolph went on to be his biographer. She shared a sentiment Lynde had confessed to her. Rudolph explained, “‘There’s nothing worse than me being on stage with kids or a dog, or any animal, because they upstage you,’ and he wanted to be the center of attention.”

Paul Lynde felt threatened by animals and babies with no lines and no major stunts or blocking to learn. He felt this insecure on the inside, but evidence of his skill sat right in front of him through Bewitched. Uncle Arthur was supposed to be a short-lived character with significantly less screen time and importance than he ultimately had. But the Bewitched crew felt so impressed by Lynde’s performance, they had to keep him along as much as possible.

‘The Hollywood Squares’ left him boxed in

Audiences raved over Paul Lynde on The Hollywood Squares
Audiences raved over Paul Lynde on The Hollywood Squares / Everett Collection

At the end of the day, even though he solidified a really solid, beloved comedy legacy on TV shows, Lynde really wanted to be a movie star. They, he felt, got all the adoration he’d been chasing for so long, no doubt sure that could silence the lifelong doubt, suppression, and loathing he’d endured. But most of those ambitions came to a halt with The Hollywood Squares, a game where contestants faced off with lots of fast-paced back-and-forth quips.

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On the outside, audiences adored Paul Lynde on The Hollywood Squares. He could deliver outstanding comebacks in record time, all with his famous voice that still gets imitated to great effect today. But Lynde felt boxed in and kept from his movie aspirations, and so left in 1979. However, Lynde was a vital part of the show and the program made such a good deal to get him back, he had to return. He received co-star billing, the same as host Peter Marshall. Marshall would then have to hear Lynde’s grievances about what a mistake returning was.

Enemies with himself and others

Lynde engaged in a rivalry with comedian Buddy Hackett
Lynde engaged in a rivalry with comedian Buddy Hackett / Everett Collection

Seeing everything as a feud, Lynde did get caught up in rivalries. One with comedian Buddy Hackett turned pretty nasty, but in this case, Hackett did fire the first shots. He asserted that Lynde got credit for Hollywood Squares lines that were written ahead of time, discrediting his improv skills. Lynde replied with insistence he made his own jokes. Finally, he claimed Hackett had actually been banned outright from Hollywood Squares for vulgar and downright mean behavior.

It may be no surprise to anyone, then, that Paul Lynde spent his life rather unkind to his own body – and by extension, to others. Geoffrey Mark, pop culture historian and author of The Lucy Book, outlined, “He was one of those Jekyll/Hyde alcoholics who is a lovely human being when he wasn’t drinking and a complete bitch when he was.” Esteemed Jaws actor Robert Shaw displayed similar practices. Rudolph’s statements back this claim. She explained, “when Paul drank too much, he could be vicious and cruel and, as a result, he lost a lot of his friends. Part of all of that came from the fact that he was jealous of a lot of people who were getting better parts.” Alcohol wasn’t even the only substance he turned to; he used pills, cocaine, pot to combat depression.

What happened to Paul Lynde?

Lynde did not easily see how respected he was and would be
Lynde did not easily see how respected he was and would be / Everett Collection

Learning the life of Paul Lynde is a bittersweet endeavor. Fans know him as a source of so much laughter but he himself was so contradictory to all that. He sought greatness and did receive it, just not that kind of worship he so wanted. Unfortunately, he also embraced a lot of self-destructive habits that wore on his body. So, on January 10, 1982, Lynde missed showing up at a party he was due to attend.

Two of his companions grew worried and had to break into his locked home to check on him. They found Lynde dead on his bed at the age of 55. Autopsy reports had to unfog the mysterious circumstances of his death. He had drugs in his system but the report felt it wasn’t enough to cause a problem. And there had been no foul play since the two colleagues had been the first to set off the house alarm that day. Paul Lynde had been alone in the lovely California home he’d yearned for for so long. And despite his doubts to the contrary, he did leave a lasting legacy.

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