Scott Hansen was signing autographs after his 2019 New Year's Eve show at Maple Tavern when a stranger approached him and grabbed both his hands.

"This is hard for me, but I was going to kill myself this afternoon," Hansen recalled the fan saying. "But I came to the show and I feel better about my life. I can laugh again."

That Maple Grove gig turned out to be his last. The 66-year-old comic, who is credited with jump-starting the stand-up scene in the Twin Cities, died Sunday, according to Louie Anderson and others.

"I'm depressed, of course, but I'm trying to keep a good attitude," Hansen said earlier this summer by phone from his bed where he's been laid up since doctors gave him less than six months to live.

"Scott Hansen was my friend, my mentor, my employer and a part of a small group of explorers who discovered stand-up comedy in Minneapolis while also discovering ourselves," Anderson said Sunday night. "Scott and played every available venue throughout the great state of Minnesota from VFWs to Moose Lodges, resort bars and local family restaurants, bringing stand-up comedy to thousands of our fellow Minnesotans. It's one of the my top five proud career achievements. It's how we found out how to become great comics and even greater friends."

Hansen had been dealing with health issues for years.

In 2013, he retired from performing after arthritis in his spine made it difficult to stand on stage for long periods. But he started making frequent appearances again two years later, often rolling up to the microphone in a wheelchair.

He was hospitalized in July after his wife found him lying in a pool of blood. After waking from a coma, he was released to hospice at home.

Michele Hansen, a registered nurse, said her husband was suffering from a failing heart, liver and kidneys.

"It's like the perfect storm," she said.

Hansen never enjoyed the national success of some of his famous friends such as Anderson. But in the Twin Cities, he is considered a pioneer.

"When you look at the most important people in comedy history from here, people immediately jump to Louie," said Patrick Strait, who wrote the book "Funny Thing About Minnesota: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Twin Cities Comedy Scene."

"But in terms of comedy in Minnesota, Scott is at the top of the list. No one did more to help grow stand-up locally."

Strait's book, released earlier this year, examines how Hansen was instrumental in turning the Minneapolis dive bar Mickey Finn's into a safe space for amateur comedians in the late '70s, a time when stand-up was about as popular in the Twin Cities as snail racing.

He later opened clubs and founded an agency that helped bring such national acts as Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno to Minnesota.

"One thing I learned from Scott is the importance of working close to home," said Twin Cities comedian Joe Tanner, who spoke to Hansen last week. "He made a living while staying close to home and was there every night. I shadowed him for two years after Louie 'assigned' me to him. I soaked in all I could. He taught how to open and host a show the right way."

Some peers credit Hansen for being an important cheerleader; others accuse him of letting personal ambitions get in their way.

"I don't think anyone can deny the importance of Scott in comedy," Strait said. "Even those who had a disagreement or issue with Scott would turn around and also say that he gave them a lot of opportunities and helped them succeed."

Before his death, Hansen said he never intended to play such a major behind-the-scenes role.

"When I finally closed the clubs and just did comedy, I was much happier. It freed me up," he said a few weeks ago. "But I'm proud of the legacy because the Twin Cities became one of the best markets for comedy in the country."

Hansen said his spirits have been lifted by notes and calls from old pals, including former Minnesotan Joel Madison, who has written for "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Undeclared." Last week, local comic Fancy Ray McCloney posted a picture on Facebook of him delivering ribs to Hansen in bed.

Minnesotan Lizz Winstead, who co-created "The Daily Show," used Facebook to praise her mentor.

"This young woman got to become who she is in comedy because you gave me the stage time to learn, fail, succeed and grow," she wrote. "Minneapolis comedy is YOU, Scott. The comics who got to develop there and those who came through, all know that they are better comics because of Scott Hansen."

Anderson had been checking in almost nightly, even singing a song over the phone to celebrate the Hansens' 43rd wedding anniversary.

Neal Justin • 612-673-7431