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Comedian Gilbert Gottfried dead at 67 after ‘long illness’

Gilbert Gottfried, pictured at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images/Tribeca Film Festival)
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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 family shared the news of his death on Twitter that same day, citing “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,” the family’s statement reads. “Although today is a sad day for all of us, please keep laughing as loud as possible in Gilbert’s honor.”

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.”

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.