RIP Eddie Lawrence, aka the Old Philosopher

Have any of these things ever happened to you:

  • You got chapped lips and paper cuts and your feets are all swollen up and blistered?
  • Your shoelace just busted?
  • You open a big cut on your cheek trying to even out your sideburns?
  • 60 yards of barb wire hits you right smack in the puss?
  • You fall down in the mud and a wild animal runs off with your shoes? 

If so, you’ve lost a champion. Eddie Lawrence, the creator of the Old Philosopher character, died recently at age 95.

I was surprised he was still living, quite frankly. The Old Philosopher has been a very durable piece of nostalgia, perhaps because it sounded dated when it was new. The entire gag consisted of Lawrence, in a pathetic, sadsack voice, reading a litany of imagined indignities that had befallen his listeners, and then suddenly, with the backing of a loud Sousa-playing brass band, exhort his listeners to, “Lift your head up high! Take a walk in the sun with that dignity and stick-to-it-iveness, and you’ll show the world, you’ll show them where to get off. You’ll never give up, never give up, never give up — that ship!” Odds are you’ve heard some variation of it somewhere, sometime. 

According to Eddie Lawrence’s obit in the Times, he was pretty much able to build a career on the routine. I became familiar with the Old Philosopher as a kid because the character was often used in commercials (though often it was someone ripping off the character). As a kid, I always wondered where the hell it had come from. The woes he enumerated—like broken radiators and tweed suits for winter—sounded dated even back then. It was that weird sensation you get when you know something is playing off a cultural referent, but your only knowledge of the referent is from the things that refer to it.

Play this video to hear the original recording that launched a thousand schticks, most of them variations on the same theme. And be happy for Eddie. He made out OK in the end.