Joey Russell, a Borscht Belt comedian who worked the nightclub circuit with some of the era’s biggest names and established a career as a TV clown in Connecticut, where he lived most of his life, died Sept. 25 in Milford. He was 90.
A philanthropist and Jewish activist, Mr. Russell established a local chapter of the American Red Magen David for Israel, and raised money for 20 ambulances. When a girl at one of his appearances once suggested that he collect a penny for every Jew who died in the Holocaust, he accepted the idea – his Penny Parade Fund raised $60,000, which paid for one ambulance.
Every year after Jewish holidays, the New Haven Register reported, he would go to an area supermarket, buying out all the kosher food at a discount and delivering it to Jewish Family Services for distribution to needy members of the Jewish community. Mr. Russell also led more than 50 trips to Israel, and helped raise millions of dollars for Israel Bonds.
Mr. Russell was a native of Springfield, Mass.; his father was an Orthodox rabbi.
Though he achieved success while working with Alan King, Henny Youngman and Milton Berle, he chose to remain home to help raise the family’s five children, including actor-comic Reuven Russell. His non de plume on New Haven television for three decades was Happy the Clown, then Colonel Clown.
He would often visit hospitals to entertain children, and later in life developed a new, ethnic act for older, Jewish audiences.