His mother, Signe Elvera Nelson, was a Swedish Lutheran.
His father, Charles Joseph Reilly, was an Irish Catholic commercial artist.
As a child, Charles would often put on a puppet show for himself as entertainment. His mom would then tell him to "save it for the stage," foreshadowing his futre as a performer. It could also be the idea behind the title of his one man show.
After escaping the Hartford Circus Fire, where over 100 people died, he never sat in an audience again through the rest of his life.
His father suffered a nervous breakdown when Charles was very young, and eventually needed to be institutionalized. As a result, Charles and his mother moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to live with Swedish relatives.
He was an extremely close friend of the Tony-winning actress Julie Harris.
He was a guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson more than 95 times.
His one-man show was held at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York.
He was the longest running guest on Match Game and often got into little arguments with fellow regular Brett Somers.
He said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that he never felt the need to come out, nor did he ever purposefully hide his homosexuality.
He played up a campy onscreen persona - he would poke fun at himself by briefly affecting a deep voice and describing himself as "butch."
In April 2006, he was involved in a minor confrontation at Depaul University with the former wrestler The Ultimate Warrior while attending his speaking engagement. The Warrior repeatedly used the term "queer" in reference to homosexuals, which offended Reilly. Reilly then asked him to stop using the term, but the Warrior refused, and the two began cursing at each other. Reilly was then escorted out by security.
In 1998 and 1999, he was nominated for Emmy Awards for his performances in The Drew Carey Show and Millennium.
He was a longtime teacher of acting at the HB Studio, created by Herbert Berghof. His previous students include Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler.
His stage debut was at the age of 9 for a school play.
Reilly met Patrick Hughes III backstage while he was appearing on the game show Battlestars.
His longtime partner, Patrick Hughes III - a set decorator and dresser - is his only survivor. They lived in Beverly Hills.
He came out as a gay man after his one-man show Save It for the Stage.
At the age of 13, Charles Nelson Reilly survived the disastrous Hartford Circus Fire in Hartford, Connecticut.
Charles Nelson Reilly's theatre career has earned him these awards:
Won the 1962 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Nominated for the 1964 Tony Award® Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Hello, Dolly!
Nominated for the 1997 Tony Award® Best Direction of a Play for The Gin Game
Nominated for the 2002 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Solo Performance for Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly
CNR first met Gene Rayburn in 1960 while working on the Broadway Musical 'Bye Bye Birdie'. CRN was Dick Van Dyke's understudy and continued in that role when Rayburn replaced him in the lead.
Charles Nelson Reilly: The thing that's funny is that everybody thinks I'm dead.
Charles: When I die, it's going to read, "Game Show Fixture Passes Away." Nothing about the theater, or Tony Awards, or Emmys. But it doesn't bother me.
Charles: You can't do anything else once you do game shows. You have no career.