“Improvising is best left to those who really love it. Improvising itself is kind of fun, but the apprehension before the improv is not. I don’t think that fast; I can’t write that fast. Some people can look at a bunch of suggestions and can come up with a premise, but that was never my long suit.” George Wendt
American actor of television, stage and film George Wendt gained national appreciation as Norm Peterson, the beer-swilling accountant-turned-housepainter-and-sometime-decorator on the long-running NBC sitcom “Cheers” (1982-1993), where he picked up Emmy nominations for six consecutive years (1984 to 1989). He earned critical praise after giving a fine supporting turn in the 1997 CBS TV-movie The Price of Heaven, for director Peter Bogdanovich. Other television credits include performances in Hostage For a Day (1994), Bye Bye Birdie (1995), the short-lives show “The George Wendt Show” (1995), “The Naked Truth” (1997), “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” (2001- 2002) and “Modern Men” (2006). The heavyset, curly-haired actor also played supporting roles in many movies, most notably in Ron Howard’s Gung Ho (1986), House (1986) and Guilty By Suspicion (1991, opposite Robert De Niro.
Wendt’s fans should not miss his impressive performance in the upcoming films Rob Greenberg’s Saturday Morning (2007), Bryan Loves You (2007) and House of Re-Animator (2008). On the small screen, the Emmy nominee will play roles in the television films Imperfect Union (2007) and LA Blues (2007).
Aside from film and television, the Second City alumnus has participated in a number of stage productions. He starred with Richard Thomas in “Twelve Angry Men” at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington, D.C. in October 2006. Other productions he starred in include the Broadway production of “Art” (1998), with Judd Hirsh and Joe Morton.
Privately speaking, Wendt is married to actress Bernadette Birkett, who costarred on the comedy series “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” (1986) and provided the rare off-screen voice of Norm’s unseen wife Vera. They now reside in Los Angeles with their four sons and one daughter.
Childhood and Family:
In Chicago, Illinois, George Robert Wendt was born on October 17, 1948. He attended Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and later was kicked out of the University of Notre Dame after receiving a 0.00 GPA. He fared better at the Jesuit Rockhurst College in Kansas City, from which he earned a B.A in economics.
George tied the knot with actress Bernadette Birkett in 1978. The two met while working at the famed Second City in Chicago. George is the father of two sons, Joe Wendt (born 1987) and Daniel Wendt (born 1990), and a daughter, Hilary Wendt (born 1985). He also has two step-sons, Joshua (born 1968) and Andrew (born 1970).
The Price of Heaven
After college, George Wendt spent two years traveling throughout North America and Europe, before returning to his hometown of Chicago and enrolling in the Second City comedy troupe’s acting workshop. Graduating with their company, he worked with the group from 1974 until 1980, honing in on his talents as an actor and a comedy writer. “Nothing But Comedy,” a comedy pilot featuring Second City players, brought Wendt to Los Angeles where he kicked off his film career in 1980’s My Bodyguard.
Wendt next continued to guest star in such television series as “M*A*S*H,” “Alice,” “Soap” and “Taxi,” and received his big breakthrough in 1982 when he landed the series regular of Norm Peterson on the NBC sitcom “Cheers.” During an 11 year stint with the show, the actor was handed six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series from 1984 to 1989. The accomplishment subsequently put Wendt on the map.
After making a reputation for himself as a popular TV actor, Wendt began finding larger film roles. He had supporting roles in Dreamscape (1984) and the Chevy Chase vehicle Fletch (1985) before delivering an unforgettable performance as Buster, a welder at an auto plant, in the Ron Howard-directed Gung Ho (1986). The same year, he stood out as Harold Gorton in the comedy/horror House, costarring William Kat, and in 1991, Wendt once again gave a powerful, solid supporting turn as a screenwriter who is the best friend of Robert De Niro’s character in Irwin Winkler’s Hollywood blacklist drama, Guilty By Suspicion. He continued with appearances in such movies as Forever Young (1992), Man of the House (1995) and The Lovemaster (1997).
Wendt starred in the Fox TV film Hostage For a Day (1994), played Mr. MacAfee in the ABC remake of the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1995) and costarred as one of the title roles in the 1996 Showtime film Roger Corman Presents Alien Avengers, and its continuation Alien Avengers II (1998). Anxious to exploit his tremendous fame from “Cheers,” CBS premiered “The George Wendt Show” in 1995, which vanished immediately, perhaps because its format was brazenly similar to fellow “Cheers” alum Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier.” He returned to series TV as a co-star of the NBC sitcom “The Naked Truth” (1997), playing a newspaper editor named Les Polonsky, and received critical praise for his supporting role of the owner of a company that sells funeral insurance in the CBS TV-film The Price of Heaven (1997), helmed by Peter Bogdanovich. In the 1990s, Wendt also found himself performing on several stage productions, including NYC’s “Wild Men!” (1993), the London production of “Art” (1998), with Stacy Keach and David Dukes, and the Broadway production of “Art” (1998), opposite Judd Hirsh and Joe Morton.
Entering the new millennium, Wendt starred in the Off-Broadway production of “Empty Plate,” had features roles in such films as Wild About Harry and Garage: A Rock Saga, and played the recurring role of Carl in the TV series “Madigan Men” (all 2000). He appeared in several episodes of the popular series “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch,” where he portrayed the title character’s boss from 2001 to 2002, and in 2004, he became the host of the reality TV “House of Dreams.” Following small roles in such 2005 films as The Life Coach, Edmond and Kids in America, Wendt was seen again on the small screen in early 2006 as part of the cast of “Modern Men,” starring Jane Seymour, Eric Lively, Josh Braaten and Max Greenfield. He went on to make several appearances in “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (2006), guest star in an episode of “Masters of Horror” (2006), and in October that same year, he was discovered performing with Richard Thomas in “Twelve Angry Men” at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington, DC.
Recently, Wendt completed Saturday Morning, a comedy/fantasy directed by Rob Greenberg, and Imperfect Union, a comedy romantic television film starring Ashley Williams and Zachary Levi. He also has in-post-production projects titled LA Blues (TV) and Bryan Loves You, a horror film set for an October 2007 release. The 59-year-old actor is also scheduled to play the Vice President of the United States in Stuart Gordon’s Sci-fi film House of Re-Animator (2008), starring William H. Macy and Jeffrey Combs.