The World's Richest Panhandler
He was called by Lenny Bruce as "one of the most brilliant comedians of all time," but he spends his days panhandling in the streets of New York City.
Irwin Corey, 97, has spent the last 17 years traipsing up and down 35th Street in Manhattan, in search of change from charitable drivers about to enter the Queens-Midtown tunnel. But unlike most other beggars in New York's city streets, Corey's panhandling has nothing to do with his own survival. According to reports in the Daily Mail and The New York Times, the nonagenarian lives more than comfortably ensconced in a 19th century carriage house in the tony East Midtown section of Manhattan. He estimates the house to be worth some $3.5 million, and can thank an acting and comedy career that has seen him perform alongside the likes of Woody Allen and Jackie Gleason for his fortune.
"I don't tell them where the money's going, and I'm sure they don't care," he tells The New York Times, referring to his donors.
Corey gives the funds, which he says can get as high as $250 a day but regularly come in at $100, to a charity in Cuba that buys medical supplies for children. He often accosts potential donors with the offer of a free newspaper.
Indeed, Corey's life has been equally characterized by leftist politics as by performing. He even says that his regular denunciations of America, which have taken the form of wearing hats that read, "Uncle Sam is a Big Bully," got him blacklisted during the Cold War. One of his more notable routines is thanking the Freedom of Information Act for allowing him to get a copy of the Declaration of Independence. He then holds up a copy of the founding document that's largely blacked out after government redactions.
Corey has long billed himself as "The World's Most Authority." He's also been known on the comedy circuit by the nickname, "Professor Irwin Corey." And his trademark routine is an exhibition of a quick mind at work. He famously riffs in double talk, and transitions between his simultaneous thought processes with the word, "however."
The New York Observer also recently recalled a riff of Corey's to display his sharp wit. When he accepted a National Book Award on behalf of Thomas Pynchon in 1973, his speech was interrupted by a streaker. "I want to thank Mr. Knopf, who just ran through the auditorium," he said.
He still performs regularly, and just this past week, he traveled between New York and Chicago for two gigs. As he spends his days in Manhattan's streets, he often dons the look he's always worn on stage -- black tails, a string tie, sneakers and a scarecrow hairdo.
"I feel like I've been watching Irwin Corey forever," Dick Cavett, told The New York Times back in 2008. "I saw him in the 1950s, and I thought he was old then."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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