Ted Cassidy was different from other boys his age. Yes, it’s true that his physical appearance made him stand out from everyone else, but that wasn’t the only thing. Physically, intellectually, and imaginatively, he towered over everyone.
As anyone who has endured high school knows, being different frequently makes life difficult. Ted experienced that sad reality firsthand as he became the subject of unrelenting bullying during his formative years. Rather than retreat in the face of adversity, however, he used the experience to stiffen his resolve to make the most of his lot in life.
Physically, there was no way you could miss Ted. He was six-foot, one inch (1.85 meters) when he began high school. His height was due to a condition known as Acromegaly. It caused his body to produce too much growth hormone. By the time he stopped growing, Ted stood at a gigantic six-feet, nine inches (2.06 meters).
There was a lot more to him than his height. Intellectually, he was also a giant. By the time he was six years old, he was in the third grade. He began high school at age 11. Since he was about three years younger than his classmates, his towering height made him stand out even more.
Although Ted had the appearance of a giant, he was a gentle soul. He enjoyed music and became an accomplished organist. This, too, only served as more fuel for the bullies of his school.
It was when he began college that Ted started to find real fulfillment in life. He began at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Later, he transferred to Stetson, where he was recruited for the basketball team. His height and graceful moves worked to his advantage, gaining points for his team and respect for himself. Finally feeling accepted, he got involved in student government and graduated with honors.
Having been an outcast for most of his life, Ted wanted to win the approval of more than his college classmates. He decided to pursue a career in entertainment. He moved to Dallas, Texas, and got his start by working at the radio station WFAA.
Part of his responsibilities at the radio station was to be a disc jockey. Broadcasting under the name “Creech,” Ted played the popular records of the day while offering commentary between songs.
His other responsibilities had him serving as a reporter. It was while working in that capacity on November 22, 1963, that Ted became one of the first reporters to interview eyewitnesses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Among those he interviewed were Bill and Gayle Newman, who were photographed shielding their children from bullets, just a few feet from the point where Kennedy was struck.
He certainly had the voice for radio. His deep, resonate tones conveyed a sense of authority and confidence. Had he remained in radio, his success couldn’t have been in doubt.
Ted had his eyes on something bigger, however. He wanted to get into television. You have probably heard his voice many times without knowing whose voice it was. He brought several iconic cartoon characters to life. He was the voice of Ben Grimm in the animated series The New Fantastic Four. He also provided the voice of Tarzan in the cartoon series Tarzan Lord of the Jungle.
From 1977 to 1979, he was the narrator of the television series The Incredible Hulk. You not only heard his voice bring the introduction of each episode, but you also heard Ted every time the Hulk sounded his fierce roar.
Producers seemed drawn to Ted because of his enormous size. Since he had been treated as a monster for much of his life, he resisted those efforts to typecast him. He wanted to be known for his dramatic acting abilities, rather than his appearance. He got his chance several times, such as when he was cast as Harvey Logan in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Ted just couldn’t escape the fact that he was a big guy, however. Although he was reluctant to do so, he accepted a role in a series so he could break into television. In fact, he accepted two separate roles for the same series. As written, he would have no lines for either part. Much to his chagrin, each of these roles would have him performing as a monster.
For one of the roles, the only part of his body that would be visible was his hand. That may sound strange to you, but once you see any of the episodes, you’ll realize the whole series was strange. It involved a family that was weird beyond belief.
Ted’s primary role — and the one for which he would ultimately be best remembered — was as the butler for this creepy family. The character represented everything he wanted to avoid. The essence of the role was that he was playing a freakishly-large man with a monstrous appearance. All of the things for which he was bullied as a boy would now be on display for the entire world. None of Ted’s brilliance, athletic ability, or creativity would be on display.
At first, it appeared there would be one opportunity for this character to reflect Ted’s artistic accomplishments. The butler would occasionally play the harpsichord. It would seem that Ted’s skills as an organist would be on display. Alas, he was told that he should only pretend to play; the producers had someone else to provide the actual music.
In fact, not even his wonderful voice would be heard. Ted’s character was written to be mute. All he had to do was show up, be seen, laughed at, and depart. He hated the thought of being typecast in this way, but he reluctantly agreed to take the role for a short time.
Only by accident did he get a chance for his character to speak. One day, during rehearsal, Ted opened the door after a visitor rang the bell. In a moment of inspiration, Ted ad-libbed, “You rang?” in a deep, ominous voice. Everyone on the set burst out laughing. At that moment, Ted’s character stopped being mute, but he never stopped being a monster. The character he so reluctantly agreed to play made him instantly recognizable for the rest of his life as the enormous and lovable Lurch from The Addams Family.
He played the butler and the disembodied hand, Thing, for two seasons. He was critically acclaimed and loved by the show’s fans. He recorded the song “The Lurch” in 1965 and helped spur a dance craze by the same name. He also made an appearance in the television series Batman, appearing as Lurch. This was a rare situation of an Addams family member appearing in character and in color. It was also an opportunity for Batman to utter one of the greatest lines in the history of entertainment: “Yes, citizen, you may now return to your harpsichord.”
He also found that his worst fears had been justified. He would thereafter always have to deal with being typecast as a monster. He appeared as an alien in three episodes of Star Trek and as Bigfoot in the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Ted was plagued with heart disease as a result of his gigantism. He underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor near his heart. On January 16, 1979, just a short time after the surgery, Ted Cassidy passed away. He was only 46 years old.
We suspect he would have mixed feelings about the way he is remembered. The man who despised being treated as a monster is forever engrained in our memory as a monster. Sadly, his intellect, creativity, and versatility as an actor tend to be obscured by the towering shadow of Lurch. At the same time, we suspect he would take pride in the enduring appeal of the character he brought to life and would feel some measure of satisfaction in knowing he continues to bring joy to new generations of fans.
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