Roman’s friend and booking agent Alison Chaplin confirmed on Sunday that he passed away on Saturday at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. His daughter revealed that he had a heart attack that morning to the media outlet Deadline.
Roman gained notoriety for his performances in Catskill Mountain hotels and resorts, which were also known as the Borscht Belt due to the huge Jewish population that frequented the area and the comedians who entertained them, including Mel Brooks and Don Rickles. Later, he gave performances at Bally’s Grand in Atlantic City and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where he roast-roasted celebrities like Rob Reiner, Chevy Chase, and Jerry Stiller and Hugh Hefner. He also conceived of “Catskills on Broadway,” where he and his friends Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Mal Z. Lawrence brought their nostalgia-tinged, Catskills-flavored standup to New York. He also appeared in various television shows and films over the years, including “Red Oaks” on Amazon.
“A great loss to the world of comedy,” Paul Reiser wrote on Twitter. “He was such a huge supporter & mentor when I was starting out. A GREAT comic, the ultimate pro with the biggest heart. I will miss our phone calls and his big, beauty laugh.”
Born Fred Kirschenbaum on May 28, 1937 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Roman got a taste for stand-up comedy early thanks to his family. His uncle and grandfather owned the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills, where Roman started emceeing at age 15.
In “Catskills on Broadway,” Roman commented about everything from his childhood in Queens to his “retirement life” in Florida.
“I took a cholesterol test,” Roman quipped. “My number came back 911.”
The New York Times, in its review of the show in 1991, wrote, “Catskill resorts may be fighting the recession, but Catskill comedy has not lost its flair.”
The show, he’d later say, changed his life. It went to Broadway and then toured around the country, and Roman would continue performing for years to come. He was also made Dean of the New York City Friars Club, where he mentored many aspiring comedians and infused the private club with young talent.
One of those young comedians was Jeffrey Ross, who said of Roman in 2003 that, “When I was becoming a member, there weren’t many of us who were younger. But Freddie would always come over and spend time with me and my friends and be real lovable.”