For decades, Tim Conway has been a much-loved comic actor. After rising to fame in the 1960s, the star has since gone on to have an illustrious career on both the big and small screens. And, most recently, he has become known to younger audiences for voicing Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants. However, the veteran entertainer is now sadly suffering from dementia, and his daughter has subsequently revealed just how far the disease has progressed.
Conway has lived a fascinating life by almost anyone’s standards. In a move that may have prepared him for his future career, he studied speech and radio at Bowling Green University. Then, upon graduation, the Ohio native signed up for the U.S. Army. His tour of duty would ultimately take just over two years – with extra time added as punishment for his jokes and pranks.
Given Conway’s propensity for messing around in the military, then, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he later went into comedy. Despite having no industry experience, he tricked his way onto WJW-TV and wrote skits for the network. That in turn led him to earn a spot on the The Steve Allen Show. And in 1962 Conway first appeared as part of the cast of McHale’s Navy – the show that would make his name.
Perhaps Conway’s most successful run on television, however, came by way of The Carol Burnett Show. He was a series regular from 1975, and his displays of slapstick and wit would ultimately win him four Primetime Emmy Awards during his three-year stint on the show.
And Conway’s career continued apace into the 21st century, with appearances in shows such as Wizards of Waverly Place, Two and a Half Men and Glee. Then, of course, there’s his long-standing role in SpongeBob Squarepants, for which Conway reunited with McHale’s Navy co-star Ernest Borgnine to voice Barnacle Boy and Mermaid Man, respectively.
But Conway has also made time for a personal life, having tied the knot twice to date. His first marriage came to Mary Anne Dalton, with whom the star shared six children. Sadly, though, the couple divorced in 1978. Then, in 1984, the comedian wed Charlene Fusco, a secretary to Carol Burnett. Through that marriage, he also gained a stepdaughter.
Unfortunately, as Conway got older, he began to suffer from ill health, leaving him unable to star in 2017’s The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Special. And even worse news was to come. In August 2018 People related that Conway was now in the throes of dementia.
Furthermore, court papers acquired by website The Blast revealed that Conway’s daughter, Kelly, wanted conservatorship over her dad. That wasn’t all, though. Charlene, Kelly alleged, was “planning to move [her husband] out of the excellent skilled nursing facility he is currently at.” And just the news that the one-time actor was in a nursing home may have come as a shock to fans.
But such a facility may have been the best place for Conway, as he was reportedly in very bad shape. The star was “almost entirely unresponsive” and needed assistance with swallowing, according to Kelly. Her documents also apparently asserted that the home Charlene allegedly wanted to move Conway to would not provide him with the round-the-clock care and speech therapy he needed.
There seemed to be other opinions out there, though. Indeed, Bob Newhart and his wife Ginnie painted a rather more positive picture of Conway’s situation after they released a statement in August 2018. “To the many fans and friends of Tim Conway,” the pair wrote on Twitter. “We have been friends with Charlene and Tim for many years and want to assure you that he is receiving the most devoted care.”
But in the courts, the battle between Conway’s wife and daughter continued. The Blast reported that Kelly had requested a temporary restraining order to prevent Conway being relocated. The star’s daughter also claimed that for the past two years Conway had had his own caregiver and currently lived in his own secluded area. Moving him, Kelly alleged, “will [therefore] be harmful to his health and life.”
In addition, Kelly’s court papers went on, Conway’s “various medical conditions put him at risk of being a subject of medical emergencies.” She added that the facility Charlene wished to relocate him to was an “inferior” one that would affect both his “special personal and medical needs.” When People sought out both Kelly and Charlene to get each of their sides of the story, however, neither woman chose to comment.
Meanwhile, according to an August 2018 story by People, Conway’s health appeared to be on the wane. Reportedly, the former actor had lost the ability to speak. He also had fluid on the brain. And for fans who remembered Conway’s energy and talent, the news may have been painful. Among those lamenting the star’s decline was Tennessee news anchor David Carroll, who tweeted in response to the update, “Sorry to hear that Tim Conway is unresponsive and battling dementia. [He was] a great physical comedian who literally stopped the show countless times.”
Then, in late August 2018 The Blast obtained further court documents regarding Conway. The site claimed that a lawyer representing Conway, Michael Harris, had gone to see the comedian and then reported back. “[Conway] showed no ability or willingness to talk and no apparent sign that he comprehended the nature of the conservatorship or any of my statements to him,” Harris is said to have revealed in the papers.
Harris had also supposedly spoken to Charlene. “[Charlene] informed me that her motivation was to work with Jeffrey Cummings, MD, a renowned neurologist who is trying to deal with Mr. Conway’s past brain surgeries involving a shunt that failed and later a valve procedure to correct his neurological problems,” the attorney reportedly went on.
“[Charlene’s] concern now is for Mr. Conway to receive proper physical therapy so that he can better improve neurologically,” Harris continued, according to The Blast. “It is my present belief that Mrs. Conway, my client’s wife, is an adequate and appropriate steward of her husband’s well-being and that her motives regarding Mr. Conway are in his best interest.”
Harris also claimed that Charlene saw her husband virtually daily. Kelly, however, had reportedly been ordered by Charlene to only visit her father once a week. And after talking to Conway’s care assistant, Harris was allegedly told that they too thought that “any move from his present residence would be adverse to Mr. Conway’s personal interest.”
What’s more, Charlene supposedly denied to Harris that she had had any plans at all to move her husband from his nursing home. In late August 2018, however, People reported that Kelly had the temporary restraining order she had been after – and this in turn stopped Charlene from transferring Conway anywhere.
“My brothers and I are extremely happy that the plan to move our dad by his wife has been temporarily stopped by a court order today,” Kelly said in a statement acquired by People. “We are grateful to the judge for taking this matter seriously by considering all the evidence before making a decision. We appreciate the overwhelming support and love we have received from my dad’s friends and fans.”
But while there seems to have been some resolution when it comes to the care being given to Conway, his situation is still undoubtedly an upsetting one. Still, at least the star’s fans may take solace from the fact that he has appreciated his life. “It’s been a pretty good ride,” he told American Profile in 2007. “I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it.”