Gordie Tapp dead at 94


Host of CBC show Country Hoedown, Tapp was iconic Canadian performer

CBC News Posted: Dec 19, 2016 11:28 AM ET Last Updated: Dec 19, 2016 1:18 PM ET


Canadian entertainer and longtime CBC broadcaster Gordie Tapp died Sunday at 94.

He was living in Burlington, Ont., at the time of his death.

Born in 1922 in London, Ont., Tapp was once described as the "world's finest storyteller." His career took him fromGuelph to Hamilton to Toronto and then to Nashville, Tenn.

He worked with the CBC for 13 years, hosting the show Country Hoedown. He was also a popular cast member during the decades long run of Hee-Haw on network and syndicated television in the U.S.

Gordie Tapp as Cousin Clem on Country Hoedown in 1960 (CBC Archives)

Tapp lived in LaSalle retirement home in Burlington Ont., with his wife Helen, and was still performing up to weeks before he died.

His death was confirmed long time family friend Carol Thomas and by Smith Funeral Home in Burlington. No arrangements have been announced.

Gordie is survived by his wife Helen, and his three children, Jeoff, Kate and Joan.

Canadian radio and television entertainer and former CBC broadcaster Gordie Tapp died Dec. 18 at 94.

Born in 1922 in London, Ont., Tapp was introduced to former U.S. president Gerald Ford as the "world's funniest story-teller." Moving from Guelph, Ont., to Hamilton to Toronto and on to Nashville, he reached millions of people worldwide with his humour.

Tapp worked with the CBC for 13 years in the 1950s and 1960s, hosting the variety show Country Hoedown. He then went on to CBS in the U.S. and starred in one of the longest-running comedy television shows of all time, Hee Haw, as country bumpkin Cousin Clem.

"Everybody who saw him loved him," said Carol Thomas. "He could tell one joke after another." Thomas, 74, has been a friend of the Tapp family for almost two decades.

Getting a start in the golden age

Hee Haw ran until 1993, featuring Gordie Tapp, centre, as Cousin Clem, and was the longest running country variety show in U.S. television history. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Tapp started in Guelph, quickly getting pulled to Hamilton to develop an evening show in the early days of CHML.

He started in radio with personalities such as Tommy Darling, Paul Hanover and member of Parliament Bob Bratina.

"My relationship with Gordie goes back to hearing him on the radio as a kid. He had a late evening program on CHML," said Bratina. "I can still remember the theme song of it."

That show, What's On Tapp, was the beginning of Tapp's career in broadcasting.

Creating Clem

Gordie Tapp on air, Sept. 18, 1963. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

While he excelled as a radio broadcaster, his passion lay in television.

His roots in country started when Tommy Darling, then director at CHML, built a country show, and asked Tapp to join. Main Street Jamboree was born, and Tapp switched gears from jazz to country.

It was a different time in broadcasting, an important time, as Bratina remembers it.

"Gordie came into the broadcasting world in the post-war era, which spawned tremendous new growth in the industry," he said.

"When you sit around a radio these days you don't really hear the same deep resonating radio voices. They don't sound as polished. Gordie came from that same period of time, which was really a golden era of broadcasting."

Main Street Jamboree, which aired on radio and television, highlighted Tapp's comedic abilities, and put him on the map.

He then moved on to CBC's Country Hoedown, which ran from 1956-1965, for which he created the hayseed character Cousin Clem. His career with the CBC lasted 13 years, and solidified Tapp's place as an entertainer to the masses.

"He had to take on the mantle of country bumpkin Cousin Clem, but he was a very jovial, happy character," said Bratina.

"I never met Gordie when he didn't tell a joke that I don't still tell people today."

Moving south

His success eventually took him — and his character Cousin Clem — south of the border to Nashville to work for CBS Television on Hee Haw. It ran until 1993 and was broadcast internationally as the longest running country variety show in U.S. television history.

As both a writer and a performer on the show, Tapp continued to earn money after it ended, and spent his time working for humanitarian organizations and performing live.

Tapp was awarded the Order of Canada in 1998 for years of unpaid work for medical charities, including Muscular Dystrophy Canada and Easter Seals. He was also elected to the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame.

"A lot of people in this business sound like your best friend and they're really nice people, but it's just a persona. He was a genuinely fun loving, happy guy," said Bratina. "He never put on any airs that he was something special. He was always a down-to-earth guy."

Bringing Clem home

Tapp retired to LaSalle retirement home in Burlington Ontario, with his wife Helen.

He was still performing up to a month before his death, working on cruise ships and doing charity shows, and later visiting local retirement homes and putting on performances for residents.

"He was amazing," said Thomas, who had visited the Tapps just a few weeks ago. "He loved it."

Tapp died in hospital, surrounded by family and friends.

He is remembered by his wife Helen, and his three children, Jeoff, Kate and Joan. His memorial service will be held at the Smith Funeral Home in Burlington, Ontario


Canadian entertainer Gordie Tapp of 'Hee Haw' dead at 94

The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 19, 2016 2:20PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 19, 2016 3:56PM EST

BURLINGTON, Ont. -- Canadian entertainer Gordie Tapp, a comedian, musician, script writer and pitchman, died Sunday from complications of pneumonia at age 94.

Born in London, Ont., the member of the Order of Canada and Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee kicked off his career in radio before moving into TV.

During the 1950s, he was a founding member of "Main Street Jamboree," a radio and TV show out of Hamilton, and hosted the CBC music-variety program "Country Hoedown" from 1956 to 1965

Tapp eventually took his act south of the border to the popular American variety series "Hee Haw," inspiring other Canadian performers to follow his lead.

Earlier this year, comedian Colin Mochrie visited the Lasalle Park Retirement Living Community facility, where Tapp and his wife Helen lived, to pay tribute to the entertainer.

During an onstage chat with Tapp, Mochrie said his career was influenced in part by "Hee Haw."

"For me, it was the first show where I realized that Canadians could make it big in America," Mochrie said. "It was sort of an inspiration."

Despite his successes with "Hee Haw," Tapp was resolute about staying in Canada, said his daughter Kate Tapp Mock.

"We were all up here and Dad didn't really think of himself as American. He was very proudly Canadian and he had enough work here," she said. "He was a good family man."

Tapp also had an undercover role that brought much joy to radio listeners: playing Santa for Hamilton radio station CHML.

"We kids used to have to stay out of my parents' bedroom because he would use that phone and they would make it sound like he was calling from the North Pole. And for hours he would have to sit there and listen to all the kids and what they wanted for Christmas," Tapp Mock said.

In more recent years, Tapp was also known for appearing in TV commercials for Ultramatic beds, and was a committed philanthropist, raising funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Easter Seals Society.

He is survived by his wife and his children Kate, Jeff and Barbara.


December 20th, 2016

Beloved “Hee Haw” Star, Gordie Tapp Passes Away At 94

The funnyman, who appeared in 90 episodes on the long running variety show Hee Haw, has sadly passed away at the age of 94.

Canadian actor Gordie Tapp was best known to Americans as country bumpkin Cousin Clem on the beloved show Hee Haw. His character was introduced to us after a nine year stint as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s country variety show, Country Hoedown. He was encouraged by the network to head to Nashville and try his hand at Hee Haw. Of his 90 appearances between 1969-1988, he had writing credits on 78 episodes. Although his most famous role was Cousin Clem, Tapp also played the characters Samuel B. Sternwheeler, Mr. Gordon the storekeeper, and Lavern Nagger on Hee Haw.

Tapp got his start in the entertainment business in the radio industry in Canada and moved to TV in the 1950s and 1960s. Following his Hee Haw success, he released two singles in Canada. 1971’s”Nobody’s Singing Them Cowboy Songs No More” peaked at No. 10 on the Canadian Country charts, and 1972’s “Many Others” peaked at No. 44.

In 1979, he appeared in the film Wild Horse Hank and in 1983, he wrote and appeared in the Canadian film Sweet Country Music. Throughout his career, he has partnered with countless charities and emceed many events on cruise ships and in retirement homes, all for charity.

The last few years of his life, he and his wife, Helen, resided at LaSalle Park retirement home.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know Gordie over the last few years. From the moment he and Helen came to our presentation centre and since they moved to LaSalle Park Retirement Community in March 2014,” said Margaret Milley, executive director at LaSalle Park, according to Muskoka Region.“Gordie had in incredible and inexplicable energy about him. It was an absolute delight to be in his company and he was always prepared to make us laugh with so many of his jokes. We are sad to say goodbye to a dear friend and neighbor. Gordie will be missed by all of our staff, residents and everyone in the LaSalle Park family.”

Tapp passed away on Sunday, December 18 at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, Canada due to a long battle with an undisclosed illness. He is survived by his wife, their son, and two daughters.  In January, Helen and Gordie would have celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.

Our prayers go out to Gordie Tapp’s family. Watch him perform as Cousin Clem below.