Morgus Is Missed

Of all the talented, learned, likable celebrities and public figures we lost in 2020, locally one will be severely missed because of all the laughter he brought into our lives: Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, the host of TV’s “The House of Shock.”

Sidney Noel Rideau, who created and starred as the mad scientist Morgus the Magnificent for more than six decades, died at 90. The show aired on late Saturday night TV and his experiments took place during breaks from the Grade C horror movies that were shown. Few cared about the movies — it was all about Morgus and his mute sidekick, Chopsley.

So much of what he said still rings true today. He strove for recognition by “those of the university who ostracize me.” Green Wave students who worshipped the show had no doubt “the university” was Tulane. He liked to remind viewers of the great books he had written, including “Brain Surgery: Self Taught,” “Protons I Have Known” and “New Hope for the Dead.”

photo of TV mad scientist, Morgus the Magnificent
Photo Courtesy Ben Bullen

He constantly criticized The Times-Picayune and the mayor. The Master, as his faithful talking skull, Eric, called him, was miffed that none of the city’s landmarks were named after him. He suggested that the 17th Street Canal be renamed for him.  “So what if it’s a drainage canal? It carries the sweat of my labors.”

Morgus was complicated and witty. Innuendos, potshots at society and double entendres were as big a part of his game as neutrons and gamma rays. His real name, Momus Alexander Morgus, was carefully thought out:  Momus, the god of ridicule; Alexander, for Alexander the Great, the biggest egomaniac in history; and Morgus, a merging of morgue and disgusting. “We are all a bunch of Morguses anyway, faking it, fooling everybody, with self-serving egos,” he said in 1981.

His lab was above the Old City Ice House in the French Quarter, his lab coat was filthy, his teeth crooked, his eyes crazy and his hair disheveled. Chopsley was always the guinea pig for his experiments. “I promise you, Chopsley, you won’t feel a thing” was a constant refrain. 

When Chopsley screwed up, Morgus would say, “How can you be around me so much and know so little? Ah, fools can only get by so long, Chopsley, you idiot.” Morgus constantly pondered such topics as “Is the speed of dark faster than the speed of light?”

Locals will recall the hilarious weather show Morgus did on WWL-TV in which he gave current weather conditions by wringing out a “humidity rag” that had been sitting in a bucket of water.

In almost 40 years at The Times-Picayune, I wrote many columns about Morgus. One day Sid and I ate lunch and he presented me with a framed degree from the University of Morgus. It said that I had completed the prescribed course of study for the degree of “Doctor of Science and Medicine.”

It has a treasured place in my office near where my A&S degree from Tulane University resides.