Circus performer who created the memorable clown figure 'Weary Willie', based on the hobos of the Depression era. His circus career spanned 55 years and he notably portrayed the role of 'Willie' in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 classic The Greatest Show on Earth.
He began his career by performing as a trapeze artist and clown in the early 1920's but didn't start working as a clown full-time until 1931. He envisioned the hobo clown character while working at an art firm years before he got into the circus.
He is depicted in a famous photograph, still in full clown make-up and costume, trying to extinguish the fire during the devastating Hartford Circus Fire on July 6, 1944, that killed 167 people.
He married circus trapeze artist Eva Moore. He was estranged from his son Emmett Kelly Jr. for many years because he felt his son stole his "Weary Willie" character.
He was a clown figure during the Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office.