Sean Kelly Dies: National Lampoon Editor, Lyricist For Landmark ‘Lemmings’ Revue Was 81

Sean Kelly, one of the earliest and most brazen National Lampoon writers whose lyrics for the influential 1973 Off Broadway revue National Lampoon’s Lemmings helped launch the careers of John Belushi, Christopher Guest and Chevy Chase, died July 11 in New York City of heart and renal failure. He was 81.

His death was announced by wife Patricia Todd to The New York Times.

A New York Drama Desk Award winner for Most Promising Lyricist following the 1973 Off Broadway debut of Lemmings, Kelly, at the time, specialized in song parodies, a skill that would make a considerable contribution to the revue’s notorious parody of Woodstock. The Lemmings satire of the festival featured such soon-to-be-stars as Chase and Guest impersonating, among others, John Denver and Bob Dylan (respectively).

Most famously, Lemmings’ Woodstock musical scenes included Belushi’s spot-on imitation of Joe Cocker, a savage impersonation the comic would take to Saturday Night Live (where he would eventually perform it on stage beside the real Cocker).

Kelly joined the National Lampoon writing staff in 1970, later becoming an editor. In 1975, he and Tony Hendra were named the publication’s co-editors-in-chief. The duo were fired three years later but Kelly would continue an intermittent relationship with the publication until the mid-1980s.

Hendra died last year.

A native of Quebec and a longtime resident of Brooklyn, New York, Kelly would, later in his career, author numerous books and increasingly pivot to TV writing, including a couple episodes of Saturday Night Live during its infamous Jean Doumanian season in 1980.

More lastingly than the brief SNL tenure, Kelly also wrote for such children’s series as Goosebumps and Mr. Conductor’s Thomas Tales. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2004 for his contributions to PBS’ Between the Lions, having also been nominated for the same show in 2001.

Kelly appeared in the 2015 National Lampoon documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, and attended the film’s screening at that year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

According to The Times obituary, Kelly taught writing and literature for five years at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute until retiring in 2016.

Survivors include his wife, daughters Erin Kelly, Siobhan Kelly and Honore Marchant-Kelly; sons Charles and Real Time With Bill Maher writer Christopher; and other extended family.

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