Rich Ramirez, a stand-up comedy veteran of 30 years, died tonight after sustaining severe head trauma. He was 57.
Due to his ongoing battle with liver disease — he had a liver transplant in 1997 — Ramirez had lost a tremendous amount of body weight and muscle mass in the last few years. In his weakened state, he collapsed Wednesday night at his home in New Jersey. Ramirez hit his head, which caused cerebral hemorrhaging. He was rushed to Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, NJ, where he suffered two strokes and remained comatose until shortly after 8 pm tonight, when his family decided to let him go peacefully.
In addition to living with constant liver ailments, Ramirez was a colon cancer survivor. In 1999, he began performing a one-man show, Do You Want A Piece Of Me? nearly every year; the piece chronicled his battle with both conditions. “I create a little humor from it, which is not easy to do,” Ramirez said last year, about the show. “I’ve been blessed to be able to make people laugh and do what I love to do for a living.”
In addition to performing at stand-up clubs, colleges and corporate events, Ramirez had also appeared on Law & Order six times as well as the 1988 Tom Hanks and Sally Field comedy Punchline.
“I just saw him in the hospital today,” friend and comedian J.J. Ramirez (no relation) tells Laughspin. “He called me the night he fell about a gig we had just booked together in Chicago.” Ramirez continues: “He was very funny and a very clever writer. He could do Latin stuff and contemporary stuff. I was with him at the beginning of his career. He was a great guy and he’ll be very missed.”
“His jokes were so smart,” says another longtime friend, comedian Sara Contreras, who just performed with Ramirez two weeks ago. “Even when he did his Latino material, it was so embraceable, so cross cultural. Rich was a consummate professional.”
Ramirez, originally from the Bronx, is survived by his wife Cathy. A memorial service for friends and family is currently being planned. For now, you can watch Ramirez in action onstage, as well as a profile CNN produced on him in 1999.