Russell died in New York City, after suffering from stomach cancer. He was 87 years old. His ashes were scattered into the Atlantic Ocean.
Julius “Nipsey” Russell was a comedian, best known today for his appearances as a guest panelist on game shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, especially Match Game, Password, Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth and Pyramid. Russell became the 1st black performer to become a regular panelist on a daily network game show when he joined ABC’s Missing Links in 1964. Another ABC show, Rhyme and Reason, had poetry for a premise, making Russell’s participation a necessity.
His appearances were distinguished in part by the short, humorous poems he would recite during the broadcast. These lyrics became so closely associated with Russell that Dick Clark, Bill Cullen, Betty White, and others regularly referred to him as “the poet laureate of television.”
He also had a leading role in the film version of The Wiz as the Tin Man. He was also a frequent guest on the long-running “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” series.
During the 1990s Russell gained popularity with a new generation of television viewers as a regular on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Russell would often appear during comedy sketches between scheduled guests and deliver his trademark rhymes.
Russell’s final TV appearance was as a panelist on a game show-themed week on the final season of the Tom Bergeron version of Hollywood Squares.