Comedian Mitch Hedberg was found dead in a New Jersey hotel room Wednesday morning, according to Minnesota’s Pioneer Press. He was 37.
The cause of death has not been determined, and details concerning his death have yet to be released. The Pioneer Press reported that Hedberg’s family has been told he suffered a heart attack.
The comic — who bore an uncanny resemblance to Rush frontman Geddy Lee and once explained the reason his was not a household name was because most of his fans lived in apartments — spent much of his career straddling that fine line between cult status and relatively larger stardom. Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Hedberg was known for his disheveled hippie look, his relaxed, almost sedate stage manner, and his dawdling delivery — his face forever concealed behind a pair of shades and a wall of floppy bangs.
Much like Steven Wright, Hedberg was a master of the sharp-as-glass-shards one-liner (“Rice is great when you’re hungry and want 2,000 of something”; “I would imagine if you understood Morse code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy”; “When someone hands you a flier, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Here, you throw this away.’ “) His comical, almost-too-obvious observations about life’s subtle peculiarities inspired Time magazine to declare the stand-up comic “the next Seinfeld” in 2000.
A frequent guest on Howard Stern’s morning radio show and “Late Show With David Letterman,” Hedberg’s résumé also included several television and film roles, including appearances on FOX’s “That ’70s Show,” the NBC comedy series “Ed,” and the animated shows “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” and “Home Movies.”
Hedberg also lent his voice to Comedy Central’s “Crank Yankers,” played the Eagles’ road manager in the film “Almost Famous” and wrote, directed, produced and starred in the 1999 independent film “Los Enchiladas!” The film centered on a small Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis, where Hedberg’s character, a drifter, was working as a cook until he suddenly found himself in charge of the joint after the manager attacked a customer and the chef left for a better job.
Hedberg’s first television appearance came on MTV’s stand-up series “Comikaze,” a gig he landed by personally pitching his act to the program’s talent coordinator. In 1997, he won the grand prize at the Seattle Comedy Competition. Years of headlining club tours followed, and Hedberg eventually secured a development deal with FOX to create a sitcom, though that project never came to fruition. In 2003, Comedy Central Records issued his albums Mitch All Together and Strategic Grill Locations, and sponsored a tour with Hedberg, Lewis Black of “The Daily Show” Dave Attell of “Insomniac.”
“He had a heart of gold,” his mother, Mary Hedberg, told the Pioneer Press. “He was a brilliant comic and a wonderful person.”
Hedberg joked often about drug abuse, but in a recent interview, he said he’d given up smoking marijuana several years ago. “For 10 years, it was amazing, but then I had to give it up because it didn’t feel as good,” he said. “The audience thinks I’m stoned all the time and I have to write my material that way … so sometimes, when they come up to me after a show and ask me to join them, I just tell them I’m an undercover cop.”
According to an article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2003, Hedberg spent two and a half days in jail, and six weeks in a hospital bed, following his arrest in May of that year for felony heroin possession. But Hedberg said he was arrested for “possession of paraphernalia and pills and things like that. My actual bust was minor. I got a misdemeanor. People used that bust to try and prove that I was busted for having, like, a kilo of heroin on me.”
A posting on Comedy Central’s Web site reads, “Tragically, Mitch Hedberg passed away this week. Mitch was a beloved member of the Comedy Central family, and we join fans in our sadness. He will be missed.”