Gilbert Gottfried, comedian and actor, dies at 67

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LOS ANGELES — Gilbert Gottfried, the legendary actor and comedian known for his raw, searing voice and crude jokes, has died. He was 67 years old.

Gottfried died of a rare genetic muscle disease that can trigger a dangerously abnormal heart rhythm, his publicist and longtime friend Glenn Schwartz said in a statement.

“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, keep laughing too as much as possible in Gilbert’s honour,” said his the family said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Gottfried was a fiercely independent and intentionally quirky comedian, as likely to clean up a room with anti-comedy as kill it with his jokes.

“First comedian I saw who would go on and all the other comedians would go in the room to watch,” comedian Colin Quinn said on Twitter.

He first gained national attention with frequent appearances on MTV in his early days and with a brief stint on the “Saturday Night Live” cast in the 1980s.

Gottfried has also worked frequently in children’s television and films, including playing the parrot Iago in Disney’s “Aladdin.”

“Look at me, I’m so excited I’m moulting,” Gottfried said hoarsely at the start of the film as his character shed feathers.

To a younger generation, he is known as the voice of Digit the Bird on PBS Kids’ “Cyberchase.”

Gottfried was particularly fond of making obscure and dated prints as long as he could milk them, including Groucho Marx, Bela Lugosi and Andrew “Dice” Clay. He often did these vocals as a guest on the Howard Stern show, prompting listeners by the dozens to call and beg Stern to turn him down.

In his early days at The Comedy Store club in Hollywood, the managers made him do his then-little-known Jerry Seinfeld impersonation at the end of the night to get rid of persistent customers.

Gottfried was particularly appreciated by his fellow actors and performers.

Jon Stewart said opening for Gottfried was one of the big thrills of his early stand-up career.

“He might leave you breathless,” Stewart tweeted, “just indescribably uncharacteristically hilarious.”

“So sad to hear of Gilbert Gottfried’s passing,” actress Marlee Matlin tweeted. “Fun, politically incorrect but a little soft inside. We have met several times; he even played a joke on me on a plane by replacing my interpreter. (Gottfried sounded a lot like Matlin’s American Sign Language interpreter, Jack Jason.)

Gottfried was interviewed by The Associated Press last month after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. Although he took the attack seriously, saying it could endanger other comedians, he couldn’t resist the jokes.

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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, my God , please don’t come to my shows.”

The year has already seen the loss of several beloved comedians, including Louie Anderson and Bob Saget.

In January, Gottfried tweeted a photo of the three men together, with the text: “This photo is very sad now. RIP Bob Saget and RIP Louie Anderson. Two good friends who will be missed.

Gottfried was born in Brooklyn, the son of a hardware store owner and a stay-at-home mom. He started doing amateur stand-up at age 15.

He thought he was going to get his big break when he landed a spot on “Saturday Night Live” alongside Eddie Murphy in 1980. But he was given little to do on the show.

He later said a low point was playing the body in a sketch about a funeral. It will only last 12 episodes.

But he would find his own way, making stints on MTV and as both a loved and hated guest on talk shows.

He had roles in “Beverly Hills Cop II” and the “Problem Child” films and presented bad films as the host of “USA Up All Night” from 1989 to 1998.

And he had recurring voice roles on “Ren and Stimpy,” “The Fairly OddParents,” and several “Aladdin” spin-offs.

Gottfried’s schtick was not always popular. In 2011, Aflac Inc. fired him as the voice of the duck in its advertisements over a tasteless tweet the comic sent about the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Less than a month after the September 11, 2001 attacks on Hugh Hefner’s Friars Club Roast, Gottfried made jokes about planes stopping at skyscrapers, and was greeted with boos and cries of “Too soon !” He responded with a particularly crude version of the comedians’ “The Aristocrats” joke, which many viewers interpreted as a message that he thought it was the comedian’s job to stay rude at all costs.

“To me, funny is funny,” he told the AP last month. “I’ll kinda regret doing this that isn’t funny, because it’s not funny or an ad lib that doesn’t work. But if it’s funny, I feel like I’m the actor and that’s my job.

He’s made many notable contributions to TV roasts, his toughness and love of old-school stand-up style making him a perfect contributor. He took notoriously cruel and relentless beatings on roasts including Matlin, George Takei and Roseanne.

“Like most monsters, she has a name,” he told Roseanne’s roast in his signature style, leaning over the microphone, hands spread wide, shouting in a low voice. “And that name is Rozilla.”

“I will miss you my friend, my foil sometimes, my pain always in my side, usually belly laughs,” Takei posted on Twitter on Tuesday. The skies are much noisier with you there now, I’m sure. Make them shake their heads and smile, Gilbert.

Gottfried is survived by his wife Dara, his sister Karen, his 14 year old daughter Lily and his 12 year old son Max.

By Associated Press entertainment writer Andrew Dalton.

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