“He was killed in an auto accident. I t wasn’t a natural death. He made a mistake and hit a bus head on. And that was it. . . .he was gone.” – Leo Gorcey speaking of his fathers death in an 1968 interview.
Leo Gorcey is best known for his leading role in The Bowery Boys, The East Side Kids, and The Dead End Kids as Mugsy (in most of the films). Mugsy was a non nonsense hustler whose gang consisted of childhood friends. Though he may seem tough on the outside, on the inside yhe was all heart. As is the rest of the comedic gang, always loyal and always caring but always getting themselves into trouble.
Gorcey himself was more than a pretty face on screen. Not only was he a star comedian, he was a writer, owned his own production company (Monogram Films), and was a down to earth family man. His father was also an actor/comedian having come from vaudeville as well as Broadway. His name was Bernard Gorcey and besides recognizing him from a Charlie Chaplin film he was a regular in the Bowery Boys films. Whether it be a brief cameo or a large supporting role Bernard soon became a familiar face in the popular franchise. No matter what role he played he was always known for the ‘little guy, big mouth’ attitude that audiences loved. (He stood at 4’10.) Being in these films was also wonderful for him in terms of his personal life for he got to work with his sons Leo and David Gorcey (also a Bowery boy) on a daily basis.
Sadly, all happy tales to tend to come to an abrupt and unforeseen ending. On August 31, 1955 Bernard made the biggest mistake of his life that not only ended his film and stage career but his time with his family. He turned down La Brea in Los Angeles (a one way road) and came head on with a bus. Just like that movie goers, vaudeville, and Broadway audiences alike lost one of their beloved performers. Now if audiences were sad, one can only imagine how the studio felt. . .how the Bowery Boys felt. . .and how the Gorceys felt. Matter of the fact this was something that no one knew at the time but this tragic event would take Leo down further than he even expected. For Leo life went on as it always will, he continued to run his studio, make hit films, and take care of his family. Deep down though the absence of his father who was his more than his on screen partner but as well as his off screen best friend continued to affect him no matter how much time went on. He began to drink outside of social events and late night sedatives. One thing led to another over the next few years he went through several divorces, his off screen friendship with his on screen partner Huntz Hall was estranged over media rights and spotlight wishes, and even worse the sweetest Bowery Boy and cherished friend Bobby Jordan passed away. Cause of death was complications due to alcoholism. At this point he had given up hope of putting the bottle down. Everyone who knew Leo could tell you that he was one of the strongest people they had ever met. . .and yet he was loosing this battle. Though he wasn’t ever going to give up (and he never did) he was in fact loosing the battle.
He sold the studio and moved his family out to the country in hopes to find a more peaceful lifestyle. When asked about this drastic decision he simply replied while always keeping his sense of humor in tact and with a slight chuckle,
“The cows don’t lie to me out here. Friends lie, producers lie, wives lie, but the cows don’t lie.”
Unfortunately like all great comedians a sense of humor covers up the pain burning on the inside. His father was still gone, his memory was still there, and the drinking continued. When the pain from the absence of Bernard went away the drinking would stop.
The pain never went away.
The drinking never stopped.
The day before Leos 52nd Birthday his liver gave out.
That’s when the pain finally went away.
For that day, June 2 1969, Leo was reunited with his father.
David Gorcey the surviving Gorcey of the Bowery Boys founded a halfway house to help recovering alcoholics in memoriam of his big brother.
On August 31st 1955 Bernard Gorcey was in an accident that ended his life. It also took the life of his son Leo even though he wasn’t in the car with him. He died years later after suffering for so long. This accident killed both the father and the son of one of History’s greatest comedy teams.
Rest In Peace
January 9, 1886 – September 11, 1955
Leo Bernard Gorcey
June 3, 1917- June 2, 1969