Tim Conway’s faith got serious after football injury


By Mark Ellis—

Tim Conway (Wikimedia Commons)

He was a comedic genius, first gaining notice as a bumbling ensign on McHale’s Navy, then rocketing to even greater fame on The Carol Burnett Show, which earned him four Emmys.

Perhaps less known is his spiritual journey, which began with a serious injury playing high school football.

Conway grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, the son of an Irish immigrant father and a mother born in Romania. His family lived modestly, with his father grooming horses for a wealthy businessman and his mother cleaning houses and working as a seamstress.

Partly due to his father’s work with horses, Conway thought about becoming a jockey when he was young. “I didn’t want to get into show business; I wanted to be a jockey,” he told Tony Rossi in 2013. “But at this weight, even the horses ask you to get off. Plus, I fell off a lot, and people betting on you would like to see you on the horse when it comes across the finish line. I learned that rather rapidly.”

During a high school football game, Conway got slammed in the back, fell to the ground, and couldn’t move. He was on the ground for minutes, unable to talk or “feel anything below my neck let alone move,” according to his memoir, What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life.

Inexplicably, someone told him to “walk it off,” not recognizing the seriousness of the situation.

When he couldn’t stand without falling, his teammates grabbed his arms and legs and carried him off the field, because stretchers were not widely used at the time.

A physician took an X-ray, but found nothing broken, and ordered him to wear a neck brace for several weeks. It was thought he might have suffered a contusion or “stinger,” which can cause temporary paralysis.

Contemplating the thought of being paralyzed for life caused him to examine deeper issues. “Ever since that incident on the football field, which might have altered the course of my life, Jesus and I have stayed in constant touch,” he wrote in his book.

His spiritual faith in Christ was born of a thankful heart, being spared from a life-changing injury by God’s mercy.

Many years later, Conway visited a physician due to back pain. He was astonished when the doctor informed him his “spasms were a residual effect stemming from a broken vertebra.”

Conway told the doctor he had never fractured a vertebra, but proceeded to recount the incident in high school.

“You may not realize it, but you are one lucky man,” the doctor told him. “Here’s what I think. Your vertebra probably was broken when you were hit, but when they picked you up and carried you to the locker room, your back got stretched out. I’d guess that the vertebra went back into place. The X-ray may not have shown anything at the time but, I assure you, you came very, very close to being permanently disabled. If they hadn’t moved you, it might have been a different story.”

Conway was often circumspect about his faith, but maintained his relationship with Jesus Christ throughout his life. He admitted to Tony Rossi in 2013 that his spiritual path wasn’t always straight: “All straight lines get a little crooked from time to time, but I tried to maintain a decent life.”

The comedy star used “Heaven” as a chapter title about The Carol Burnett Show in his book, because it was one of the high points of his career, achieving a harmonious fellowship between all the actors in their work together.

In Conway’s book, he recounted that after achieving success on McHale’s Navy, he got a call from his mother, who told him, “Ken Shutts down at the hardware store is taking on new help. You know him rather well, so you should apply.”

Tim was taken aback, “Ma, have you been watching television in the last couple of years?”

“I saw it, but that crap isn’t going to last,” she told him. “You got a chance to get a good steady job. You should take it.”

He didn’t take his mother’s advice, and a legion of fans around the world is grateful. And he is undoubtedly bringing smiles to many faces in his new abode in the heavenly realm, renewed in mind and body, knowing fullness of joy.


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