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One of the most popular performers on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) during its revival in the late 1980s, Emmy winner Dana Carvey was responsible for such note-perfect impressions of figures like George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, Johnny Carson and Jimmy Stewart, as well as his own creations, the zealous Church Lady and Wayne's sidekick, Garth. Where most impressionists stuck to rote imitations of their subjects, Carvey took his subjects to surreal extremes, with Stewart becoming a vigilante in an alternate-world "It's a Wonderful Life" (1941) and Bush transforming from stiff martinet to self-amused, quote-spouting buffoon. His success on the series naturally led to a film career, but aside from his appearances in "Wayne's World" (1992) and its sequel, Carvey failed to find the proper vehicle for his talents. After a debilitating series of heart surgeries, he retreated from the spotlight in the late 1990s to focus on his family and work in stand-up, but his status as one of the brightest talents "SNL" ever fostered was never lost on his dedicated fans.
Born Dana Thomas Carvey in Missoula, MO on June 2, 1955, he was the youngest son of educators William and Billie Carvey. When Carvey was three, he moved with his family to the Bay Area town of San Carlos, CA; there, with his parents' encouragement, he began to develop his artistic skills at a very early age. He displayed an uncanny gift for mimicking actors he saw on television, and he showed promise as a musician on drums and guitar. While studying communication arts at San Francisco State University, he put his impressions to the test before live audiences at area comedy clubs. After gaining a reputation for his near perfect takes on James Stewart and John Wayne, he began to incorporate his own creations into the act. One of these characters was The Church Lady, a vinegary, sanctimonious woman who flaunted her moral superiority over anyone who crossed her path. Based on real women from Carvey's hometown church, she later became one of his most popular roles on "Saturday Night Live."
In 1981, Carvey moved to Los Angeles to try his hand in Hollywood. After making his feature debut as an ill-fated EMT in "Halloween II" (1981), he landed a development deal with NBC, which resulted in "One of the Boys" (NBC, 1982), a dreary sitcom with Mickey Rooney as a senior citizen who moves in with his college-age grandson (Carvey). Though a dismal flop, the show provided early exposure for the comic, as well as his co-stars, Meg Ryan and Nathan Lane. After minor roles in "This is Spinal Tap" (1984) as a mime who is dressed down by his boss (Billy Crystal) and "Racing with the Moon" (1984), Carvey returned to TV that year as the computer-whiz sidekick to cop James Farentino, who piloted the super helicopter "Blue Thunder" (ABC). Though the program was based on the hit 1983 film, the small screen incarnation failed to repeat its success.
In 1986, Carvey joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" as one of its featured players. He was immediately credited as one of the key factors in the show's revived status in the ratings, as characters like the Church Lady, the Schwarzeneggar-esque bodybuilding Hans, and his Grumpy Old Man soon became part of the pop culture lexicon. The ranks of Carvey's imitations soon swelled to include then-President George H.W. Bush - whose laconic drawl and aimless finger-pointing were honed to perfection by the comic - as well as Johnny Carson, Paul McCartney and a dissolute Keith Richards opposite Mike Myers' flamboyant Mick Jagger. For his work on the series, Carvey received an Emmy for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, and earned an additional four nominations during his tenure on the series. Myers and Carvey's biggest contribution to "SNL" was unquestionably the "Wayne's World" skits, a hilarious spoof of public access programs, with Myers as ebullient Milwaukee teen Wayne and Carvey as his nervous, bespectacled co-host, Garth, whom Carvey based on his own brother, Brad Carvey, creator of the Video Toaster editing software. The recurring characters quickly became some of the most popular on the show, and soon found themselves in extended bits that partnered them with the likes of Madonna and Wayne Gretzky. In 1992, Carvey and Myers reprised their roles in the feature-length "Wayne's World," which became a surprise hit of the post-Christmas season, and a favorite among the sketch's core audience of young men. However, 1993's "Wayne's World 2" failed to reproduce its fresh humor and box office take.
That same year, Carvey left "Saturday Night Live" to pursue a career in the movies. However, his efforts there largely failed to echo his popularity on the sketch comedy series. His first starring role came in 1990's "Opportunity Knocks," a generic comedy about a con man (Carvey) who posed as the friend of a wealthy businessman on vacation. It failed to connect with audiences, as did his post-"SNL" features, like "Clean Slate" (1994), with Carvey as a detective unable to recall the recent past, and "Trapped in Paradise" (1994), with Carvey as the dimwitted brother to restaurant owner Nicolas Cage. A change of pace seemed to arrive with "The Road to Wellville" (1994), Alan Parker's adaptation of the popular novel about John Harvey Kellogg by T. Coraghessen Boyle, but the film's slapstick approach caused fans of the book to distance themselves from the project. Carvey played George Kellogg, the seemingly deranged son of future cereal inventor John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins).
Television remained a friendly medium for Carvey, and he returned to it frequently, most notably with repeat appearances as himself on "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-98), which earned him an Emmy nomination. The show skewered Carvey's own real-life situation, in which he was mentioned by David Letterman as his choice to replace the outgoing talk show host on "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993). However, to the surprise of many, Carvey refused the job, paving the way for Conan O'Brien, and instead focused on his own variety series. With 20/20 hindsight, "The Dana Carvey Show" (ABC, 1996) should have been a sizable hit, as it featured both Carvey reprising many of his beloved "SNL" characters, and a behind-the-scenes talent list that included producer Robert Smigel, writer Louis C.K., and future stars Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Elon Gold among its cast. However, the show's approach, which eschewed traditional sketch structure in favor of looser, more surreal bits, as well as adventurous pieces that included Carvey as then-President Bill Clinton nursing a baby, several puppies and a kitten from his nipples. The tone was praised by critics but bewildered audiences, who tuned in to see Carvey's "SNL" routines. "The Dana Carvey Show" was canceled within a month's time, though it did serve as the launching pad for Carell and Colbert's careers, as well as Smigel's "Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoons, which later became part of "SNL's" "TV Funhouse" segments.
In 1997, Carvey underwent open-heart surgery for a blocked artery, but the procedure was complicated when the surgeons operated on the wrong area. He eventually required five operations to repair the damage, and won a $7.5 million malpractice lawsuit, the proceeds from which he later donated to charity. Carvey retreated from his pursuit of a film career, preferring instead to work in stand-up. He soon became a popular fixture on the high paying corporate circuit. In 2002, he made "The Master of Disguise," a sophomoric comedy about the son (Carvey) of a secret agent who adopted his father's knack for outlandish disguises, including then-President George W. Bush, Al Pacino's Tony Montana from "Scarface" (1983) and Charlie McCarthy. Universally panned by critics, it was popular with young audiences, who helped propel it to modest box office success. Carvey would keep his appearances to a minimum over the next decade, including a brief reprise as Garth opposite Myers on the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, and a spirited take on George H.W. Bush in the 2010 Funny or Die sketch "Presidential Reunion," where he was joined by Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford and Dan Akyroyd as Richard Nixon, who visited Fred Armisen's Barack Obama in a dream.
In February 2011, he made his fourth return to "Saturday Night Live" as guest host. His appearance, which saw him take potshots at the Kardashian sisters, among others, was the highest rated program of the evening, and returned Carvey to the media spotlight. Reuniting with Myers as Wayne to his Garth in the opening sketch was a sentimental hit, as well. That same year, he joined the cast of "Jack & Jill" (2011), a comedy with Adam Sandler playing male and female twins.
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TV acting debut with "Alone At Last II"
Moved to Los Angeles
Feature acting debut with "Halloween II"
Cast as a regular on the short-lived NBC series "One of the Boys"
Co-starred on the short-lived drama series "Blue Thunder" (ABC)
Joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" as a series regular; introduced and performed various characters such as Church Lady and Garth Algar; also impersonated George Bush and Ross Perot during Presidential elections
Played first feature lead in "Opportunity Knocks"
Co-starred as Garth Algar opposite Mike Myers in the mega-hit "Wayne's World"
Reprised role of Garth for the sequel "Wayne's World 2"
Headlined own short-lived sketch comedy series "The Dana Carvey Series" (ABC)
Underwent double bypass surgery on his heart in September; in May 2000, sued doctor alleging surgeon operated on the wrong artery; settled for undisclosed amount which was donated to charity
Appeared as a celebrity contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (ABC)
Returned to feature films as star of the comedy "The Master of Disguise"
Wrote and starred in HBO special "Dana Carvey: Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies"
Returned to feature acting with a cameo in "Jack and Jill," starring Adam Sandler