Nipsey Russell, the comedian and TV mainstay, has reportedly died. (One report is here.)
When I heard the news, I dug out my copy of the book ''TV Game Shows'' (by David Schwartz, Steve Ryan & Fred Wostbrock) because it was on game shows that so many people came to know, and like, Russell.
Yes, he did other things, notably the big-screen version of ''The Wiz.'' Though not a success in many ways, the movie was a triumph for Russell as the Tin Man. Donald Bogle, a tough critic and historian, said of the movie that ''Seeing Russell is a joy. 'The Wiz' affords him a rare opportunity to do something special on screen, and he delivers. Weak as the film is, the role's the best of his career.''
But it was television that sustained him, especially game shows. He was a frequent guest on ''Match Game,'' for instance. But he was also seen as important to the games.
You can see that in the ''TV Game Shows'' book by looking at how often he was a guest on a game's premiere -- on ''Chain Reaction'' and a '70s version of ''Masquerade Party'' and an '80s version of ''To Tell the Truth.'' (He also hosted a short-lived show, ''Your Number's Up,'' in the mid '80s.) It doesn't matter if those shows were successful or not; what matters is that, when they wanted to make a great impression at the beginning, they looked to Russell to provide it.