Gilbert Gottfried, a singular stand-up comic with a distinctive bray of a voice and a ribald sense of humor, has died at age 67.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Gilbert Gottfried after a long illness,” his family wrote in a statement shared to his Twitter account.
Gilbert’s rep Glenn Schwartz, told TMZ he died from a heart abnormality called ventricular tachycardia.
For 11 years, Columbus-based insurance company Aflac used Gottfried’s voice as their mascot duck. Then in 2011, he tweeted a tasteless joke about the Japanese tsunami. Aflac, which books a lot of business in that country, fired him.
“They get loads of free publicity,” Gottfried told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview in 2015. “Then they hire a guy to imitate me for less money. And thus bringing closure to a horrible tragedy.”
The whole online Twitter-verse hate-filled reaction, he said, “made me sentimental for old-fashioned lynch mobs. At least they get their hands dirty.”
His deliberately grating on-air voice was not the same as his off-camera conversational voice.
He said his vocal style during his act evolved gradually over time. “It’s like asking someone how they developed their walk or how they hold a cup of coffee,” he said. “I never thought about it consciously. I’ve done lots of damage to my employment prospects by not thinking consciously.”
Gottfried was born in Brooklyn and began doing stand-up in New York City at the age of 15. He was briefly a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” in 1980.
“It was the misbegotten season right after [creator] Lorne Michaels left,” Gottfried said. “People were saying, ‘How dare they continue without the original cast?’ It was like replacing the Beatles with four schmoes. I was lost. It was like a lost weekend. I remember it like a blur. We were attacked before we even got on air.”
His fame grew later in the decade when MTV used him in wacky promos. He also made frequent visits to Howard Stern, impersonating people like Andrew “Dice” Clay, Groucho Marx and Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
He also received praise for an improvised scene in “Beverly Hills Cop 2″ as a business manager and nabbed roles in “Problem Child,” “Look Who’s Talking Too” and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” His voice-over career took off after playing the parrot Iago in the Disney film “Aladdin.” He also made regular appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
In the 2010s, he popped up frequently on reality TV shows while he continued to do stand-up, including a stop at the now-closed Atlanta Improv in 2015.
He did VH1′s short-run “Celebrity Paranormal Project,” (“It was like a bad ‘SNL’ sketch,” he said.), Food Network’s “Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off” (eliminated first) and “Celebrity Wife Swap” (with Alan Thicke) before he did “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2015.
And while he enjoyed his brief three-episode stint on the Donald Trump-led reality show, he readily admitted he wasn’t gunning for victory the way Leeza Gibbons, Geraldo Rivera and Ian Ziering were: “I didn’t want to win. What I found funny is how serious these people get about it, how emotional they get. I’m thinking, ‘No matter how many cupcakes you sell or funny hats you make, Donald Trump isn’t really going to hire you!”
His last TV appearance was on the April 6th episode of Fox’s “The Masked Singer” wishing Hydra well. (Hydra ended up being his friends Penn & Teller.)
His death happened not long after two of his close friends passed, Bob Saget and Louie Anderson. On social media not long ago, he posted a picture with him, Saget and Anderson and wrote, “This photo is very sad now. RIP Bob Saget and RIP Louie Anderson. Both good friends that will be missed.”
He is survived by his wife Dara, who he married in 2007, and his two children Lily and Max.
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