Nipsey Russell (September 15, 1918 - October 2, 2005) was an African American comedian, best known for being a guest panelist on many 1970s and 1980s game shows, such as Match Game, Password, Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth and Pyramid.
In addition to his sharp game-playing skills, Russell also delighted audiences with short poems, earning him the nickname "the poet laureate of television."
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Russell went to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and attended the University of Cincinnati for one semester in 1936 . He served in the United States Army during World War II.
He got his start in the 1940s as a car hop at the Atlanta drive-in The Varsity, where he would earn his tips by making his customers laugh. He moved his act to nightclubs in the 1950s, when he was discovered and subsequently made many "party albums", which were essentially a compilation of his stand-up routines, not unlike what Redd Foxx was doing at the very same time.
In the late 1950s, he was featured on The Ed Sullivan Show, which led to a small part in the comedy Car 54, Where Are You? in 1960. Russell became the first black performer to become a regular panelist on a weekly network game show when he joined ABC's Missing Links in 1964. A year later, he became a co-host of ABC's Les Crane Show. During the 1970s, he was a co-star in the ABC sitcom Barefoot in the Park and appeared regularly on The Dean Martin Show and The Dean Martin Comedy World. Scattered appearances on television series followed, as well as performing guest host duties on The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson era.
In 1971, he started as a featured panelist on To Tell the Truth, which led to him being hired for The Match Game when Goodson-Todman Productions revived it two years later. Today, he is most known for these game show appearances â€” not only for his wit, but his seriousness in playing the games (or in Truth's case, questioning the civilian contestants). Producer Bob Stewart used him regularly as a panelist on Pyramid throughout its 1970s and 80s runs.
He was also a trained dancer, and appeared in the 1978 film The Wiz as the Tin Man.
He died October 2, 2005 in New York City, after suffering from stomach cancer.