Popular comedian Gilbert Gottfried has died at the age of 67, according to a post on social media written by his family.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Gilbert Gottfried after a long illness. In addition to being the most iconic voice in comedy, Gilbert was a wonderful husband, brother, friend and father to his two young children. Although today is a sad day for all of us, please keep laughing as loud as possible in Gilbert’s honor,” it read.
Actor Jason Alexander inadvertently posted his condolences prior to the family announcement, which spread the news across social media.
“Beloved and iconic comedian Gilbert Gottfried passed away at 2:35 p.m. ET on April 12, 2022, from Recurrent Ventricular Tachycardia due to Myotonic Dystrophy type II,” said Gottfried’s longtime friend and publicist Glenn Schwartz in a statement.
Myotonic dystrophy is the most common form of muscular dystrophy, characterized by progressive muscle wasting and weakness, which can trigger a dangerously abnormal heartbeat.
Gottfried was born in 1955 in Brooklyn, the son of a hardware store owner and a stay-at-home mom. He performed comedy for more than 50 years, starting standup as young as age 15 in local New York City comedy clubs.
He was hired as a cast member for a brief stint during the sixth season of Saturday Night Live in 1980, and became popular throughout the decade, appearing regularly on game show Hollywood Squares and on Howard Stern’s radio show.
Known for his unique, shrill voice, Gottfried voiced parrot Iago in beloved 1992 Disney animated classic Aladdin.
He was famous for his crude, off-colour humour; a fiercely independent and intentionally bizarre comedian’s comedian, he was as likely to clear a room with anti-comedy as he was to kill with his jokes.
“Gilbert’s brand of humor was brash, shocking and frequently offensive, but the man behind the jokes was anything but,” Gottfried’s friend and podcast co-host Frank Santopadre said in a statement. “Those who loved him were fortunate enough to share his orbit… knew a person who was sweet, sensitive, surprisingly shy and filled with a childlike sense of playfulness and wonder.”
He was particularly fond of doing obscure and dated impressions for as long as he could milk them, including Groucho Marx, Bela Lugosi and Andrew “Dice” Clay.
In his early days at the club the Comedy Store in Hollywood, the managers would have him do his impression of then-little-known Jerry Seinfeld at the end of the night to get rid of lingering patrons.
Gottfried was especially beloved by his fellow comedians and performers.
Gottfried was interviewed by The Associated Press last month following Will Smith’s Oscar night slap of Chris Rock. While he took the attack seriously, saying it might imperil other comedians, he couldn’t resist wisecracks.
He said that before on stage, he “just had to worry about wearing a mask. Now I have to worry about wearing a football helmet.” He later added: “If Will Smith is reading this, dear God, please don’t come to my shows.”
Gottfried’s schtick wasn’t always popular. In 2011, Aflac Inc. fired him as the voice of the duck in its commercials over tasteless tweet the comic sent about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Less than a month after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, at the Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner, Gottfried made jokes about planes making stops at skyscrapers, and was met with boos and shouts of “Too soon!” He responded with an especially foul version of the comedians’ inside joke “The Aristocrats,” which many in the audience took as a message that he believed it was the comic’s job to remain crude at all costs.
“To me, funny is funny,” he told the AP last month. “I’ll regret a bit I do that just doesn’t get a laugh, because it’s not funny or an ad lib that doesn’t work. But if it gets a laugh, I feel like, I’m the comedian and that’s my job.”
He made many notorious contributions to televised roasts, his harshness and love of old-timey standup style making him a perfect contributor. He took famously cruel and relentless jabs at roastees including George Takei and Roseanne.
“Like most monsters she goes by one name,” he said at the Roseanne roast in his signature style, leaning into the microphone, hands spread apart, shouting himself hoarse. “And that name is Rozilla.”
Gottfried is survived by his wife Dara of 15 years, sister Karen, 14-year-old daughter Lily and 12-year-old son Max.
— With files from The Associated Press