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Henny Youngman, `king of one-liners,' dies

Henny Youngman, a tireless comic who quipped "Take my wife - please" and countless other one-liners during a career that spanned seven decades, has died. He was 91.

The quintessential Catskills comedian died Tuesday of complications from the flu at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, said Jackie Green, a friend and dean emeritus of the Friars Club.Young's quick, near-mechanical delivery became his trademark; in 60 seconds, he could unleash a half-dozen zingers. A typical Youngman joke: "A man says to another man, `Can you tell me how to get to Central Park?' `No.' `Alright, I'll mug you right here."'

The one-liners were as likely to bring a groan as a guffaw. But his act played.

Youngman appeared in countless clubs from the Catskills to the Palladium in London, from Atlantic City to Las Vegas and most points in between while working more than 200 shows per year into his 70s. Green said Youngman worked the last few years from a wheelchair.

"He was a comic's comic, the butt of a lot of jokes, and that enhanced him," Green said.

Columnist Walter Winchell dubbed Youngman "the king of the one-liners" in the 1930s. But the most famous crack - "Take my wife, please" - was actually delivered by accident before an appearance on radio's "Kate Smith Show."

A frazzled Youngman was getting ready minutes before air time when his wife, Sadie, showed up with several friends. Youngman grabbed an usher and told him, "Take my wife, please." The comic was still using the line a decade after his 82-year-old wife died in 1987.

Oddly, the comedian who became an American institution was born in White Chapel, England, on March 16, 1906. "I was so ugly when I was born, the doctor slapped my mother," he once cracked.

Youngman arrived in New York six months later, settling in Brooklyn.