By Tim Kiska Special to the Detroit Free Press

Art Cervi shaped musical tastes of Detroit baby boomers as talent coordinator for the Channel 9 dance show “Swingin’ Time,” then found a new career by hiding in plain sight behind Bozo the Clown’s bulbous red nose and entertaining countless thousands of younger fans.

Cervi, who reached an enormous audience that never knew his name, died Monday at his home in Novi. He was 86. 

Several Bozos appeared on Detroit television between 1959 and 1980. Cervi played the character the longest — from 1967 until 1975 on Channel 9 (CKLW-TV) and then on Channel 2 (WJBK-TV) until he, and Bozo, left the air in 1980.

The size of Cervi’s audiences as Bozo probably makes him one of the biggest stars in Detroit TV history. No one in Detroit, however, would have recognized Cervi on the street.

He had a clause written into his contract requiring that he be chauffeured to the station in full gear — not because he enjoyed celebrity but because he worried that if the kids saw Bozo without his clown regalia it would torch their bond with their humorous hero.

After his television career ended, Cervi hosted “Let’s Talk Cars,” a radio show about automobiles.

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Suzanne; sons Mike, Nick, and Jon; and a daughter, Patricia. A memorial service will be private.

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Tim Kiska is a professor of Language, Culture, and Communication at the University of Michigan — Dearborn.

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