Chicago native George Wendt, known universally as “Cheers” barfly Norm, famously got his big break pushing a broom at Second City comedy club. In the years since, he's become synonymous with Chicago comedy, with a resume that includes movies and television. Wendt was born on October 17, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois, graduated from Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a Jesuit-run boarding school for boys. He moved on to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, but after two years there, was kicked out with a GPA of 00.0. He made a successful switch to another Jesuit school, Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri, and earned a B.A. in Economics, then took a few years off, traveling through Europe and North Africa, eventually coming back home to Chicago, his roots.
After watching the talented comedians in “The Second City,” Wendt asked to join, and was told to be there at 11:30 the next morning. When he showed up at the improvisational comedy troupe that morning, he was handed a broom, and told, "Welcome to the theater, Kid." Wendt persevered, and eventually joined the performing end of the company, from 1974 to 1980, and met his wife, Bernadette Birkett, who was also a performer. He was in a pilot for NBC, “Nothing But Comedy,” and this was his ticket to Hollywood.
Wendt's first movie role was in the film “My Bodyguard,” starring Matt Dillon and Chris Makepeace. After a few other minor roles in movies, as well as television shows such as “Soap,” “Taxi” and “Alice,” he appeared in “M*A*S*H” as a Marine with a pool ball stuck in his mouth, being helped by David Ogden Stiers' character. After appearances in the films “Airplane II: The Sequel” and “Jekyll and Hyde...Together Again,” Wendt got his first big break since he started pushing the broom.
Auditioning for the role of constant bar patron and accountant Norm Peterson on the sitcom “Cheers,” Wendt beat out future fellow regular, John Ratzenberger. The character became so successful and iconic, that he became known for his entrances into the bar with a greeting of, "Norm!" followed by one of his famous one-line quips. Birkett played the voice of Norm's wife, Vera, heard on the phone, but never seen. The series ran from 1982 to 1993, and by the time the last show aired, only Wendt, Ted Danson, and Rhea Perlman, had appeared in every one of the 273 episodes.
Wendt also brought his famous character to five other shows, “Cheers” spin-offs “Frasier” and “The Tortellis,” “The Simpsons,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Wings.” He and Ratzenberger settled out of court on a lawsuit with airport lounges that were using the “Cheers” bar design with animatronic patrons that resembled Norm and Ratzenberger's character, Cliff Clavin.
Finding yet another iconic character onFinding yet another iconic character on “Saturday Night Live,” Chicago native Wendt, joined series regulars, Chris Farley, Mike Myers and Robert Smigel, in creating the Superfans, sports fans dedicated to Chicago sports teams, specifically the Bears, but the Bulls as well. They would draw on Chicago accents, food choices such as beer and sausage, and make outlandish claims for victory. Wendt also hosted “Saturday Night Live” once, sharing the job with legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.
Other than the characters of Norm and the Superfan, Wendt has kept busy with a number of different opportunities. He has appeared in the feature films “Fletch” along with Chevy Chase, and in “Gung Ho” with Michael Keaton. He has had several guest starring roles in television shows including “Spin City” and “Tales From the Crypt.” In 1995, he starred in his own show, “The George Wendt Show,” but it was ill-fated and didn't last. He went on to a recurring role on “Sabrina,” “The Teenage Witch,” and hosted a reality show, “House of Dreams.”
In May 2006, Wendt was seen yet again on television. He made several appearances on “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” where he performed short skits. He starred in a 2006 episode of “Masters of Horror” entitled "Family," directed by John Landis and played Santa Claus in the ABC Family original movie “Santa Baby.” Wendt performed alongside Richard Thomas in Twelve Angry Men in October 2006 in the Eisenhower Theater in Washington, D.C. Wendt was interviewed by local movie critic Arch Campbell where he was asked, "What should people do when they see you around town?" After hesitating for a moment, Wendt held his thumbs up and replied, "If their impulse is to buy me a beer, then by all means, follow that impulse." In spring 2007, Wendt performed in 12 Angry Men in Los Angeles. Wendt appeared as an American GI in the 2007 Christmas Special episode of British sitcom “The Green Green Grass.”
Most recently, Wendt starred on Broadway in Hairspray playing the character of Edna Turnblad and also had an eight week run playing Santa Claus in the musical ELF.