updated 05/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
As the youngest of six sons of a New York newspaperman, Carney held a birth order that gave him a taste for second violin: He had little chance to get a word in and lots to watch and mimic. He was a skilled actor when Jackie Gleason found him in 1951. During their 10 years together they danced on the lip of disaster, often getting scripts Friday morning and performing live Saturday night. Once, Gleason forgot to enter, leaving Carney alone in Ralph's kitchen. Carney plucked an orange from the icebox and, with great flourish and self-absorption, carefully peeled it for two glorious minutes. "I don't particularly want to be a star," he said, and, six Emmys notwithstanding, he never acted like one. But he's always been on top, despite his battles with alcoholism and romantic turmoil: He is thrice married, twice to the same woman. "I'm only funny creating a character," Carney, 70, has insisted. And that's something nobody has done better.