Pinky Lee and the Day the Mirth Died

He was the biggest and one of the first idols of the Baby Boomer generation.

He hosted a TV show watched religiously each afternoon by a big chunk of 73 million post war-born kids.

He was Pinky Lee.

He was an explosive combination of high jinx and high-energy hilarity.

And he was the guy that Pee Wee Herman mostly likely channeled to create his Playhouse character.

The Day the Baby Boomers Cried...

Exactly fifty-five years ago, on September 20, 1955, while doing a live commercial in front of a studio audience of adoring kids, Pinky Lee collapsed in a writhing heap on the stage floor.

He had just jumped up in a signature move to click his heels to show just how strong and vital he was as a result of using the sponsor's product.

He landed badly and began to crumple to the floor.

For millions of his young fans the last words they heard him utter were, "Somebody help me..."

He didn't die that afternoon on live television as many of the urban legends suggested.

The story was that he had a bad reaction to a medication he was taking for a non-life threatening condition.

But something did die that day.

Pinky Lee's career for one.

By the time Pinky had recovered enough to return to the air -- several months later actually -- a new afternoon show had captured the attention of the fickle Baby Boomers.

The Mickey Mouse Club was the new kid on the block and afternoon children's TV would never be the same.

Guys with funny hats and big bowties wouldn't be en vogue again until Pee Wee had his Big Adventure.

Pinky Lee had boarded the last clown car out of town.