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Comedian Ralphie May dies at 45; comic's remarks about Native Americans led to cancellation of Fargo, Bemidji shows

Ralphie May

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Ralphie May, the nationally known stand-up comedian who had to cancel or postpone several regional shows last year because of his derogatory jokes about Native Americans, has died.

Representatives released a statement Friday, Oct. 6, saying May, 45, had been battling pneumonia and was found dead Friday morning at a private residence in Las Vegas. The cause of death was cardiac arrest.

He broke out nationally in 2003 when he finished second in the first season of TV competition show "Last Comic Standing," going on to release several comedy albums and specials in addition to a busy touring schedule.

But he was the subject of controversy in spring 2016 when a 44-second audio clip surfaced on YouTube from a 2005 routine where May used harsh language in describing Native Americans.

In the clip, which May said was illegally recorded and edited, the comedian referred to Native Americans as "a bunch of alcoholics" who have "never made it to the Bronze Age." The clip caused a firestorm online, and the city of Bemidji and Sanford Center there received numerous complaints and calls to cancel an April 2016 show.

May also had to cancel shows in Fargo, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Burnsville, Minn. He later performed in those communities, including a Dec. 10 show at the Fargo Theatre, but never made it to Bemidji.

Just before Bemidji canceled May's show, the shock comic issued a video apology and said he would donate all proceeds from the Sanford Center show to charity.

"When I was talking about Native Americans, it was over edited, illegally used and recorded, and they left out the punch line," May said in the video. "In their editing, they used my voice to inflict pain on innocent people and for that I'm sorry. You didn't deserve this, not from me, not from this face, not from this point of view... And then the people that heard this were hurt and offended and some felt betrayed by me. I want everyone, whether you love me or hate me, go find comedy, enjoy your life. I love you and you can't do anything about it."

Despite May's response video, City Manager Nate Mathews said at the time that canceling the Bemidji show was the right move.

"(The video apology) didn't really change much for us in the sense that we're really trying hard in the community to build our relationship with our Native community and I just don't want to go backwards," Mathews said. "This topic touched a nerve in our community, and I think he (May) realizes it."

Later in 2016, May came out in support of those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

May's survivors include his wife and two children.

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