Vaughn Meader, who gained instant fame satirizing the presidency of John F. Kennedy 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 by chronic emphysema and other ailments, died at his home in this central Maine city after refusing to be taken to the hospital, his wife, Sheila, said.
When it came out in late 1962, poking gentle fun at JFK’s wealth, large family and “vigah,” “The First Family” 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.
“I couldn’t believe what it meant to people,” Meader said in an Associated Press interview last year. “I was just doing my act. I’m a singer and piano player. I just stumbled onto a voice.”
Even the president was said to be amused, picking up 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 by news that Kennedy had been assassinated. It was also that day that Vaughn Meader died, he would say. He began going by his birth name, Abbott.
Meader turned to bluegrass and country music, and became known for his honky-tonk performances in bars in Maine.
Meader will be cremated and a private committal ceremony is planned for Sunday. A public celebration of his life is scheduled for Nov. 21 at a Hallowell, Maine, bar where he had performed, his wife said.