On November 22nd, 1963, John F Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas, Texas. That night Lenny Bruce was scheduled to appear at a club, and while many in the nation took time away to mourn, Bruce took the stage. He stood in the spotlight a few moments, looking soberly into the crowd in silence. Then he said:
"Man, poor Vaughn Meader."
Vaughn Meader had become a comedy superstar and millionaire in just the last year with his JFK impersonation. Meader had released a comedy album called The First Family at the end of 1962 that lampooned the Kennedy family, and it became the fastest selling album in US history. It moved over a million copies in the first week and eventually sold almost 8 million copies. The album was so huge that President Kennedy reportedly gave copies to friends as a Christmas present, and once greeted the Democratic National Committe by saying "Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself."
The First Family was recorded in October of 1962, and won a Grammy. Meader quickly recorded The First Family Vol 2, which came out about six months after the first record and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Meader, who had been a struggling stand up a year before, was featured on The Ed Sullivan Show, was playing to packed houses, and was profiled in Time. He was huge. He was everywhere.
And then Dallas.
Meader was in the studio when JFK was assassinated, but he wasn't recording another First Family album. He had already decided to leave behind his JFK impersonation and move in another direction, but the assassination took the wind out of his sails. He was hopelessly associated with the martyred president. Nobody wanted anything else from Meader... but they also didn't want the JFK material. The First Family was pulled from airwaves and stores, a pre-taped appearance on The Joey Bishop Show was actually erased and, as of November 23rd, Meader's career was essentially over.
He released two non-Kennedy albums in 1964, but they didn't sell. By 1965 Meader was essentially broke, and had turned to booze. He fell out of showbiz, briefly resurfacing in 1974 in a cameo in Linda Lovelace For President, a movie designed to cash in on Deep Throat. Meader was out of comedy and began scratching out a living playing country and bluegrass, sometimes under the name Abbott Meader and the Honky-Tonk Angels.
Vaughn Meader died in 2004 of heart disease. He was 68 years old. He was still best known for a comedy record lampooning a president who had been dead for decades.
Man, poor Vaughn Meader.