Jango Edwards may have been the most famous clown never to don a red nose. In fact he was as far from the family-friendly Bozo as one can imagine: rude, scatological, raunchy. He performed in drag, in fat suits and sometimes in nothing at all.
In one of his stage bits, in which he played a nearsighted, manic magician, he would ask an audience member, usually a woman, to help him perform a card trick in which the deck had been replaced with hot dogs — a gag that was as absurd, and lewd, as one can imagine.
“For sheer theatrical energy, for schmutz as well as chutzpah, he makes John Belushi look like Charlie Brown,” The New York Times wrote in 1981.
Some might have called him unhinged. But to his fans, mostly in Europe, Mr. Edwards was a genius.
Starting in the early 1970s, he helped lead a back-to-basics revival of clowning, embracing a thread of transgressive traditions running from medieval court jesters through renaissance commedia dell’arte and Weimar burlesque to Jerry Lewis, whose zany antics, a model for Mr. Edwards, also won great acclaim in Europe.
With his long hair, hawkish face and piercing eyes, Mr. Edwards looked more like Frank Zappa than Ronald McDonald, and his presence, onstage and off, was more rock star than children’s entertainer.
Though he was born in the United States, he learned his craft in London, where he moved in 1970; he later lived in Amsterdam. When he died at 73 on Aug. 5, at home, he was living in Barcelona, Spain.
His death, which was not widely reported in the United States, was announced on social media by Jaume Collboni, the city’s mayor. Mr. Edwards’s wife, Cristi Garbo, a fellow clown who often performed with her husband, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Edwards liked to say that a clown stands outside the limits of polite society looking in, using humor to comment on modern life and the human condition. His skits poked fun at the bureaucracy of everyday life; in one he played a flight attendant trying to explain safety procedures while on roller skates.
“It works because I’m a clown and a clown can make anybody laugh anywhere,” he told The New York Times in 1987, over a quick dinner in between shows in Paris. “Clowning is the silliness of youth and the wisdom of age. It’s pathos and it’s hilarity.”
He was always in character: When leaving the Times interview, he kissed a fellow patron, bonked another on the head and flipped the “open” sign on the restaurant’s front door to “closed.”
Though he was never as popular in the United States as he was in Europe, his influence can be felt today, as a number of American clowns embrace a more risqué, socially insightful style.
“He was always new, and always pushing, really, before a lot of clowns were pushing things that were more sensual or feral and dangerous,” Chad Damiani, a clown teacher and performer based in Los Angeles, said in a phone interview “He was in touch with his inner child, but his inner child was ripped from ‘Lord of the Flies.’”
Stanley Ted Edwards was born on April 5, 1950, in Detroit. His parents, Harold and Hermione Edwards, owned a landscaping company, which Stanley and his brother, Harold Jr., took over after they left high school.
He liked to joke that he got rich “selling grass.” But the work left him unfulfilled, especially after he got a whiff of the radical cultural politics of the time. He sold his share in the family business to his brother in 1969 and moved to London, intent on making a new life as a street performer.
His first marriage, to Cynthia Marler, ended in divorce. He married Ms. Garbo in 2014. Along with her, he is survived by his sons, Mickie and Turne, from his first marriage; his daughter, Valentina, from another relationship; his brother; and three grandchildren.
His first months in London were spent busking, either with instruments or just his body. He would spin in place for 15 minutes until he made himself vomit.
He took the stage name Jango after a trip to Morocco, where a group of children told him he looked like Django, a character from a spaghetti western film. He dropped the D and kept the name.
He began taking night classes in clowning and got good enough that after the instructor left for a stint in a circus, he took her spot. Within a few years he had a troupe, the Friends Roadshow, which he founded with another clown, Nola Rae.
In 1975, he co-founded the International Festival of Fools, a street fair in Amsterdam, which became the centerpiece of the movement that he and others called Nouveau Clown. They took as their central tenet a quotation about fools from Erasmus, in his 1509 essay “In Praise of Folly”: “They’re the only ones who speak frankly and tell the truth, and what is more praiseworthy than the truth?”
Though he spoke French and was passable in other languages, Mr. Edwards performed in English. It didn’t matter. He developed a broad fan base and a following among European cultural royalty, with devotees like the Rolling Stones and the director Federico Fellini.
By the mid-1980s Mr. Edwards was a fixture on French, Dutch and German TV talk shows. His schedule was relentless: He performed multiple 90-minute shows six nights a week, either by himself or with other progressive clowns from around Europe, like Johnny Melville of Scotland, Leo Bassi of Italy or Ms. Garbo of Spain.
He settled in Barcelona in the early 2000s. In 2009, he and Mr. Melville founded the Nouveau Clown Institute, a training center there for anyone interested in following their crooked path.
He retired in 2017 but found it hard to stay quiet, returning for the occasional show or short tour. He announced that he had terminal cancer in 2022, then rushed to complete a memoir-cum-training guide, “The Clown Bible.” He finished it a few days before his death.