Comedian Gilbert Gottfried died Tuesday in Manhattan due to complications from myotonic dystrophy type 2, a form of muscular dystrophy, according to his friend and publicist Glenn Schwartz. Gottfried was 67.
Gottfried’s manager, Tommy Nicchi, said in a statement that “as an entertainer he was as close as you’ll find to a living legend.”
The comedian was known in part for his prolific voice work, including characters such as the parrot Iago in Disney’s animated “Aladdin” and the robot bird Digit in the PBS children’s show “Cyberchase.” He was also the voice of the Aflac Duck in insurance commercials years ago.
Gottfried lost the Aflac gig after joking about the catastrophic 2011 tsunami in Japan, a prominent instance of his often controversial sense of humor. He pushed the envelope in ways that could get him into trouble, such as when he joked about masturbation at the 1991 Emmy Awards or when he riffed on 9/11 just weeks after the fact. In 2005, Rolling Stone described him as “either the most brilliant man in comedy or the most repellent, depending on whom you ask.”
rest in peace to Gilbert Gottfried who has probably the best sequence in game show history on Hollywood Squares. if you're not an old hag like me who remembers the rules, both contestants needed his square to secure the 5-square win, but he decided to troll both of them pic.twitter.com/Egzyzygudd— manny (@mannyfidel) April 12, 2022
Among comedians, Gottfried was beloved. Jason Alexander tweeted that Gottfried “made me laugh at times when laughter did not come easily. What a gift. I did not know him well but I loved what he shared with me.” Tiffany Haddish wrote, “This is a sad day.”
Actress Marlee Matlin referred to Gottfried on Twitter as “funny, politically incorrect but a softie on the inside,” recalling when he once pranked her on a plane by replacing her interpreter (Matlin is deaf). Others also noted specific memories of Gottfried: Bill Burr remembered seeing him do his Jackie Kennedy bit (“Jackie, do you remember where you were…”), while Jon Stewart described opening for Gottfried years ago as “one of the great thrills of my early stand up life.”
“He could leave you gasping for breath,” Stewart said. “Just indescribably unusually hilarious.”
Conan O’Brien recalled catching a set of Gottfried’s in 1985, when Gottfried walked out to applause and continued to thank the audience repeatedly for 10 minutes. “It was the nerviest, funniest thing I had seen,” O’Brien wrote. “So sorry to lose this sweet and delightfully funny man.”
In January, Gottfried shared a photo of himself alongside fellow comedians Bob Saget and Louie Anderson, both of whom had recently died, describing it as “very sad now.” Fans recirculated the image Tuesday in the wake of Gottfried’s own death.