Vaughn Meader, who gained fame satirizing John F. Kennedy's presidency in the multimillion-selling album "The First Family" only to have his star plummet when the president was assassinated, died Friday. He was 68.
Meader, who had battled chronic emphysema and other ailments, died at his home in this central Maine city after refusing to be taken to a hospital, his wife, Sheila, said.
"The First Family," came out in late 1962, poking gentle fun at JFK's wealth, large family and "vigah." It became the fastest-selling record of its time, racking up 7.5 million copies and winning the Grammy for album of the year.
Compared with today's bare-knuckled political humor, the satire was tame, but it tickled the funnybone of the Kennedy-obsessed public.
The Maine native, recruited to play the president on the album after he began throwing Kennedy impressions into his musical act, had to tweak his own New England accent only slightly to sound just like the Massachusetts-bred president.
Even Kennedy was said to have been amused, buying 100 copies of the album to give as Christmas gifts. He once opened a Democratic National Committee dinner by telling delegates: "Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself."
Meader's career was stopped short in November 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated. It was also that day that Vaughn Meader died, he would say. He began going by his first name, Abbott, rather than his middle name.
Meader was born in the central Maine city of Waterville during one of New England's worst floods. He often told crowds: "I was born on March 20, 1936, the night the West Bridge washed out."
After high school he joined the Army and later started doing a standup comedy act in New York. His Kennedy act led to the popular album, which brought Meader, still in his 20s, instant fame.
He was in Time and Life magazines, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and filled rooms in Las Vegas.
With Kennedy's death, his acts were canceled and stores removed the album. His famous friends no longer saw him. Meader said he turned to booze, cocaine and heroin.
After a period of drifting, he returned to Maine, where he wrote and played bluegrass and country music and became known for his honky-tonk performances in small, local bars.
Living back in what he called the slow lane, Meader reveled in a resurgence of nostalgia-driven media interest in his JFK comedy act, said Sheila, his fourth wife to whom he was married for 16 years. He maintained his sense of humor, she said.
"I liked his music," Sheila said. "The reason we stayed married was he made me laugh."
The couple moved to Gulfport, Fla., in 1999 but returned in 2002.
Meader will be cremated and a private committal ceremony is planned for Sunday.