SAN DIEGO – Longtime San Diego radio personality and comedian Russ T. Nailz died Wednesday. He was 64.
Nailz, whose real name was Russ Stolnack, burst onto the local comedy scene in the late 1970s. He was a multiple-time regional Emmy winner, an entertainer who performed in Las Vegas and a humorist known for his impressions — notably of Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character from the “Anchorman” movies — as well as for his musical stylings on stage.
His “radio brother” Chris Cantore said Russ has been “everywhere” in the community dating back to when Cantore came to the city in the 1980s.
“I remember seeing Russ for the first time doing stand-up at a fraternity house when I was a freshman at San Diego State,” Cantore said. “Then years later, he and I are working together as morning guys at 91X. I always looked up to Russ. He was a mentor in many ways. Just his comedic talent, the impressions he did, his comedic timing. He was hysterical.”
Cantore continued, “He was committed to San Diego. He was committed to the community, nonprofits, charities, the people. He loved to make people laugh. Just quick-witted. He had this sharp, sharp wit and I could never even compete nor would I try to.”
A biography on Nailz’s website touts his ability to “(spew) out funny bits as fast and furiously as a wood chipper.” His reel posted to YouTube demonstrates a talent for song parodies and impressions of musicians including Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, among others.
He also routinely performed as a musician in his own right. The last video posted to his YouTube account in January was a lively rendition of the 1959 Bobby Darin hit “Dream Lover.”
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer called Nailz “a true San Diego legend who shared laughter and joy with all of us for decades.”
“He was a friend who had a heart of gold and always brought a smile to everyone he met. I’ll miss him greatly,” Faulconer said in a tweet.
Nailz was regularly featured on San Diego’s 91X FM Radio and KUSI-TV and acted as an auctioneer for many local charities.
“The 91X family is sad to share the news that comedian, friend, legendary San Diegan and former 91X morning show host Russ ‘T. Nailz’ Stolnack has died,” the radio station tweeted Wednesday. “Russ, thanks for all the laughs! May he rest in peace.”
Cantore said his friend’s ultimate mission was to make people laugh.
“He was committed to his craft and he was committed to this town,” he said. “In a lot of ways, he felt he graduated from radio and became in a lot of ways bigger than life. He was so committed to radio, but Russ, to me, was bigger than radio. Russ was a true entertainer. He was a true comedian.
“He can take command of a stage. If you put me on stage, I’ll wet myself. There’s no way. It ain’t happening.”
No further information was immediately available on the circumstances of his death.
FOX 5’s Kathleen Bade and Phil Blauer contributed to this report.