Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers began a long and versatile career as an entertainer singing and playing the drums and guitar in an Indiana speak-easy when he was 14.
He probably is best remembered for his roles in such movies as "The Shootist," "Silver Streak," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Bronco Billy," "The Shining" and "Twilight Zone: The Movie" and for his characterization of the garbage man in the popular "Chico and the Man" television series.
But to the very end, he always considered himself "The Scatman" — an irrepressible singer whose words were interspersed with meaningless but melodic syllables.
He first began performing in high school. He taught himself to sing, drum and pluck a guitar in a speak-easy in his native Terre Haute, Ind.
"Oh, yeah," he recalled in a Times interview. "Terre Haute. They used to call it 'Terrible Hut' because it was so wide open. Gambling, red light district, speak-easies.
"I entertained for all the gangsters. Can't name a gangster that didn't come into the place where I worked. Got no salary. But the lady I was working with who played the piano, we had a box with a picture of a cat on it and a sign that read: 'Feed the kitty.' "
After he left Terre Haute, he troubadoured throughout the Midwest, sometimes taking jobs as a bellhop and porter — "anything to make an honest living" — when "the music business got bad."
In 1932, he wound up in Dayton, Ohio, auditioning for a 15-minute, five-days-a-week radio show. He got the job, and came by the name "Scatman." His new employer decided neither the name Benjamin nor Sherman was catchy enough for the star of the program and said, "We need something snappier."
Crothers recalled saying, "Call me Scatman. Because I do quite a bit of scattin'."
The Dayton station billed him as "Scatman, the man with a thousand tunes."
During that time, he wrote the lyrics to and composed countless songs. None became a standard but each bore the unmistakable Scatman imprint.
He later formed his own combo and traveled with it not only across the Midwest but throughout the South during the late '30s and early '40s. But it was not until he arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-'40s that his career took off.
He attracted attention while entertaining in nightspots such as Billy Byrd's, Cybill's and the Club Alabam. In 1950, the movies beckoned and he took third billing behind Dan Dailey and Diana Lynn in the hit 1953 picture "Meet Me at the Fair."
In another medium, he was one of the first African American on a TV series, the Los Angeles television program "Dixie Showboat," and he appeared in such network productions as the "Colgate Comedy Hour."
Despite his renown, he remained a man of simple tastes. He once said, "(I) don't go in for all that flashy business. I tell other people you don't go by what somebody drives or wears. You can be dressed the best and have a wicked heart."
Jerry Cohen in the Los Angeles Times