Comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried dies at 67
Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian and actor known for his distinctive shrill voice and ribald, sometimes controversial sense of humor, has died following a previously undisclosed illness. He was 67.
Gottfried's family announced his death on social media, writing, "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. Love, the Gottfried family."
Born in Brooklyn in 1955, Gottfried got an early start in comedy, beginning to perform stand-up around New York City at age 15. "I bounced around those New York comedy clubs for years and years," the comedian wrote in his 2011 memoir Rubber Balls and Liquor. "Occasionally, I climbed onstage and told jokes... Over time people started to laugh, against their better judgment. I could only assume they were laughing at my jokes, and not at me directly, but I was not about to question their laughter."
Gottfried first appeared on screen as a cast member on Saturday Night Live's notorious sixth season, making few appearances and lasting only 12 episodes. He then rose to prominence with a series of promos for the newly-launched MTV, which were almost entirely improvised. The promos introduced TV viewers to what would become Gottfried's signature comedy persona, and helped to launch his career in TV and movies.
"MTV started showing the crap out of those things, and people began to notice me," he wrote in his memoir. "One thing led to another — which it has a tendency to do, I'm told — and before long these one and another things were starting to look like a career. Or, something resembling a career."
Those "one and another things" included a guest role on The Cosby Show in 1987 and a memorable single-scene part in Beverly Hills Cop II the same year, among the first of his many brief roles in movies and TV over the decades that followed. In recent years, he co-hosted Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast! and was the subject of a 2017 documentary, Gilbert.
Gottfried also had an extensive career as a voice actor, starting with Disney's Aladdin in 1992, in which he played the villainous parrot Iago. At least one observer noted the irony of Gottfried's voice-acting resume: "A squinting, squawking mass of contradictions, Gottfried is both one of America's filthiest stand-ups and one of the most successful voice-over artists in children's entertainment," Rolling Stone's Mark Binelli wrote in 2005.
Indeed, Gottfried frequently courted controversy in his comedy, often joking about hot-button issues or tragic events with little regard for time or place. Most infamously, he joked about 9/11 at a roast just three weeks after the attacks (he won the audience back with an absurdly graphic take on the classic dirty joke "The Aristocrats"). He also voiced the Aflac Duck in commercials for the insurance company until 2011, when he was fired for a series of controversial tweets about the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami; Gottfried subsequently apologized for the tweets.
"I have always felt comedy and tragedy are roommates," Gottfried later wrote in an op-ed for CNN. "If you look up comedy and tragedy, you will find a very old picture of two masks. One mask is tragedy. It looks like it's crying. The other mask is comedy. It looks like it's laughing. Nowadays, we would say, 'How tasteless and insensitive. A comedy mask is laughing at a tragedy mask.'"
Gottfried is survived by his wife Dara Kravitz and their two children, Lily and Max, along with his sister Karen and nephew Graham.