Beloved ‘SCTV’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Star Joe Flaherty Dies at 82

NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Comedic writer and actor Joe Flaherty, who starred in the cult comedy show Freaks and Geeks, died on Monday. He was 82.

His daughter and caregiver Gudrun did not confirm where he died or his cause of death. But in late February, Flaherty became severely ill, according to a fundraiser promoted by actor Martin Short.

“Our beloved SCTV cast member, Joe Flaherty, is very ill. Joe is aware of the gravity of his failing health and would like to spend whatever time he has left at home rather than in a facility,” Short said. Flaherty and his daughter were struggling to afford the full-time care he needed, Short said.

“He was a mentor, a director, and an inspiring improviser who gave us many of the tools we are still using in the careers he helped kickstart. And he made us all laugh,” said Short, urging others to donate.

Flaherty became well-known for his scene-stealing cameo in the 1996 comedy Happy Gilmore, in which he played a demented heckler with perfect comedic timing, intent on ruining Adam Sandler’s character’s golf game.

“Worshipped Joe growing up,” Sandler wrote in an Instagram tribute. “Always had me and my brother laughing. Count Floyd, Guy Caballero. Any move he made. He crushed as border guard in Stripes. Couldn’t be more fun to have him heckle me on the golf course. The nicest guy you could know. Genius of a comedian. And a true sweetheart. Perfect combo. Much love to his kids and thanks to Joe for all the greatness he gave us all.”

In 1999, he starred in the cult classic Freaks and Geeks as Harold Weir, the hardline and hilarious father of 1980s high schoolers Lindsay and Sam, played by Linda Cardellini and John Francis Daley.

“So sad to hear about dear Joe. He was my TV dad and a true comedy hero,” Freaks and Geeks co-creator Paul Feig wrote on X. “Always happy to tell any story about your favorite SCTV sketch, he was just the greatest guy. I will truly miss him and always be grateful to have known him. Rest in comedy, Joe.”

Becky Ann Baker, the actress who played his on-screen wife in Freaks also said she would miss her former co-star. “Joe Flaherty made me laugh harder than anyone I ever worked with,” she said in a statement. “The more serious a scene, the funnier he was with his gruff point of view. He will be missed dearly.”

Flaherty began his comedy career in the early 1970s with The Second City in Chicago, where he starred in mainstage revues and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, alongside comedy legends Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Chevy Chase.

In Toronto, he helped to launch an offshoot of the Chicago-based comedy theater and starred in the television sketch show Second City Television, alongside John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Short. The show, which premiered in 1977 and ran until 1984, was nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program. It won twice, in 1982 and 1983.

In 2018, Netflix announced that it would be producing a special about the beloved program, called An Afternoon with SCTV to be directed by Martin Scorsese.

In 2021, Flaherty said that the project had been shelved.

“To say I’m deflated would be an understatement,” he wrote. A spokesperson for Insight Productions, which had filmed the reunion, said that the project had not been shelved, only delayed, due to Scorsese’s other commitments.

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