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Gallagher's not retiring, just refocusing

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Sun March 25, 2012
Comedian Gallagher, seen in a 1980 photo, says he's suspending club appearances to work on other projects.
Comedian Gallagher, seen in a 1980 photo, says he's suspending club appearances to work on other projects.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I'm sick and tired of it," Gallagher says of constant comedy club touring
  • He's suffered two heart attacks at comedy clubs since last March
  • The Sledge-O-Matic inventor will focus on TV, movies and other challenges
  • Small club dates limits his income, he says, and offer "no more challenge"

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Less than two weeks after suffering his third major heart attack, Gallagher told CNN he's suspending his comedy club career to improve his health and give him more time to work on new challenges.

"I'm sick and tired of it," the 65-year-old comedian said of constantly touring at small clubs. Instead, he'll finish a cartoon movie script he's been writing and try to create television shows, he said.

"If Betty White can have a career at her age, I might have two or three years of something different," Gallagher said. White turned 90 this year.

Gallagher has been performing his prop comedy -- most notably using his trademark Sledge-O-Matic to smash watermelons and other objects -- on the road for 32 years.

He suffered his latest major heart attack on March 14 while waiting to on stage at Hat Tricks in Lewisville, Texas. It came a year after another heart attack suffered while on the stage of a Minnesota club.

And his promotional manager, Christine Scherrer, confirmed to CNN that the comedian suffered yet another heart attack -- albeit a mild one -- on Sunday due to complications from the March 14 attack. Gallagher was awake and resting comfortably Sunday night at a hospital in Sedona, Arizona, Scherrer said.

Following the March 14 heart attack and after two stents were placed in his clogged coronary arteries and he spent several days in an induced coma, Gallagher checked himself out of the hospital.

"It's a plumbing problem, and once the plumber opens up the pipe you feel fine," he said in a CNN interview Saturday.

1980: Gallagher's news anchor comedy

The long flights and poor diet that come with comedy one-night stands could kill him, Gallagher said.

"Maybe that's why I have the heart attacks," he said. "I don't really exercise that much."

Besides, "there's no more challenge" in the clubs, he said.

"I'm tired of going to these bars," he said. "I'm just tired of it, and I want to have the time to put something else together."

Small clubs also limit his income, he said. "Just figure it out, 250 people at $25 each. Plus, there's the advertising and the bar wants to make some money. It's not a good business."

The next challenge could be on television or in the movies, he said.

Gallagher produced 14 Showtime comedy specials over 25 years. He thinks his comedy is better now than ever.

He's been on the road constantly in recent years to pay the mortgage on two Los Angeles homes, making him unavailable to develop more television specials, he said.

He's writing a cartoon movie that's "like a graphic novel," but "I just need the time to do it," he said.

The cancellation of his tour, which would have taken him to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia, California and Wisconsin over the next two months, could give him that time, he said.

"I am going to stand at the end of the bar like a whore waiting to be picked up by a cowboy," he said.

He decided to stop paying the mortgages on his big homes and let the bank have them, because he was staying in hotel rooms every night anyway, he said. He expects to continue the hotel stays, without choosing one city to settle in, he said.

"I can be anywhere," he said.

The Sledge-O-Matic, which is just a large wooden mallet, is not Gallagher's only invention. He holds the patent on software for slot machines and a solar-powered vending machine.

Before show business, Gallagher earned a chemical engineering degree and served as a chief chemical engineer at a large plant, he said.

Politics is another area where Gallagher claims expertise.

"I know America better than these politicians," he said. "I know what people laugh at. I know their vocabulary."

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger beat Gallagher when he ran for governor in California's recall election in 2003. Gallagher placed 16th out of 135 candidates with about 5,000 votes.

He tried out a new political joke on the CNN interviewer: "It's still called Capitol Hill because they never had a mountain of capital."

Gallagher fans who delighted in his wordplay while dodging pieces of watermelon that sprayed his audiences can hope that he'll someday return to the live comedy stage.

His promotional manager, Scherrer, says he just needs time to rest and recover. Until then, his tour is canceled.

"I'll just let the dust settle," Gallagher said.

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