In the elegant hand of the greatest American magazine caricaturist of the 20th century, visual comedy wasn’t meant to be cruel.

Mort Drucker, who died Wednesday at 91 in Woodbury, N.Y., according to a family friend, was a star member of the “Usual Gang of Idiots,” the crew of inspired creative minds that propelled Mad magazine to its pop zenith in the 1970s, when the publication reached millions of readers a month.

The magazine’s satire could sting beneath the faux guise of stupidity, yet Drucker’s subjects often cherished his pen-and-brush likenesses. His caricatures contorted celebrity features, yet never seemed to stretch the visual truth.

As fellow Mad mainstay Sergio Aragonés tells The Washington Post, Drucker was a “tender” legend. His graceful pen never cut too deep, yet it flowed honestly. He belongs on the Rushmore of caricaturists, though he wasn’t reaching for high-minded canonization.

Generations of 12-year-olds were drawn to Mad’s winking subversion, and often still found themselves reading the magazine in college. Mad begat and influenced vast swaths of post-Nixon American comedy, including “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show,” “The Simpsons” and Judd Apatow movies, and these entertainment descendants often cited Drucker.

Drucker was “my earliest introduction to the art of caricature,” says “The Simpsons” producer-director David Silverman, “and he was the very best.”

He rendered film and television parodies — scripted by his colleagues — with an uncanny sense of beautiful exaggeration, from stylized faces to expressive limbs. One thinks of his parody “The Oddfather,” with the perfect jowls and underbite of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone; or the hardened snarl on George C. Scott’s Patton in the sendup “PUT*ON”; or that Jack Nicholson sneer in the spoof “Carnival Knowledge.” And how was it possible to make every future-star face his own for the mocking of George Lucas’s creation, in Mad’s “American Confetti," as well as for the actual theatrical poster for the 1973 film?

Lucas called Drucker a da Vinci of the form. And “Weird Al” Yankovic told The Post in 2015 that Drucker was “one of my all-time favorite artists during my teenage years,” and that the Mad sensibility “bored into my brain at any early age.”

“Mort Drucker was one of the most highly respected, admired and beloved cartoonists among his peers I’ve ever seen,” says Mad caricaturist Tom Richmond, who befriended the Brooklyn-born Drucker. “He was a gigantic talent and a wonderful man.”

“The legacy he left in the world of cartooning has few equals,” he says of Drucker, who drew hundreds of parodies for Mad across five decades, picking up the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award and becoming its first Medal of Honor recipient, and he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame.

It was at a Reuben Awards Convention weekend, in 2015, that I sat with Drucker at a Washington hotel, as he recalled his career with a sense of gratitude. Sitting in the shade poolside, grinning beneath his shock of white hair, he spoke as if fortune had smiled on him.

“I never wanted to be mean,” he said of his screen-parody work. “I tried to be kind.”

And celebrities responded in kind. It was often said actors knew they’d made it in the business once Drucker caricatured them.

Mad announced last year that it would cease publishing issues of entirely new content. Yet as Silverman underscores, Drucker’s “craft will continue to inspire.”

As we sat in that easy afternoon shade, I asked the versatile Drucker whether there was anyone he could not caricature.

“My wife,” he said. “She’s too perfect to draw.”

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