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Gilbert Gottfried, the unfiltered standup comedian whose signature nasally squawk could be heard on everything from Saturday Night Live and The Howard Stern Show to movie favorites like Aladdin and Problem Child, has died. He was 67.
The Gottfried family announced his death in a statement on Tuesday: "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."
His publicist said in a statement that Gottfried died in Manhattan from recurrent ventricular tachycardia due to type II myotonic dystrophy — a rare cardiovascular condition that can cause an irregular heartbeat.
Gottfried's showbiz career stretched back to the '70s, where he established himself as an unfiltered presence on the stand-up circuit and a reliable guest on talk shows, including numerous appearances with David Letterman and Howard Stern, the latter where he once revealed his true speaking voice.
The entertainer's most iconic role, however, was playing against type in a children's classic, with his inimitable voice giving life to the smart-aleck parrot Iago, sidekick to the villain Jafar, in Disney's Aladdin (1992) and its two direct-to-video sequels.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1955, Gottfried became famous in his neighborhood for his envelope-pushing stand-up by the time he was 15. In 1980, he was hired to be part of a Saturday Night Live cast that included Eddie Murphy, but he lasted less than a year in the role. (He and Murphy reunited in 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II.)
Dennis Dugan, who directed the 1990 favorite Problem Child, recounted to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday how he once got reprimanded by the studio for shooting too much footage for the comedy that starred John Ritter as a man to adopt a son and featured Gottfried as the agent who delivers the titular child.
"So they were yelling: 'What are you doing there? You're way over budget on film.' And I go, 'Well, we’'e doing a comedy, right?' And they go, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Well, we got Gilbert Gottfried. And when I'd say action, Gilbert Gottfried does the script, and then he just starts going. You don’t say cut. You just let him go. Don't look at how long it is — watch the film, and see what you think.' And so they called me back, and they go, 'All right. You're OK because he's that funny.'"
In addition to movies and talk shows, Gottfried was ubiquitous, especially throughout the '80s and '90s, on celebrity game shows, such as Hollywood Squares, and as a host of USA's Up All Night lineup. In 2014, he launched a podcast, Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, in which he interviewed Dick Van Dyke, Sally Struthers and other Hollywood stars.
Through it all, Gottfried faced backlash for his often controversial jokes. "Like I always say," Gottfried told Vulture in November 2019, "I think twice but do it anyway."
Indeed, the irreverent comedian made punchlines of seemingly taboo topics, including the explosion of the Challenger spaceship, 9/11 and pediatric AIDS victim Ryan White, who died in 1990. Gottfried lost jobs because of some of them. In 2011, Aflac fired him from his job voicing the company's duck mascot after he made cracks about an earthquake and tsunami in Japan that left thousands dead.
In that same interview with Vulture, Gottfried explained his philosophy on offending audiences.
"I think the audience likes it too," Gottfried said. "You don't want to go on a roller coaster that advertises that this roller coaster goes very slowly and doesn't make any sudden turns or drops."
He added, "You want to feel like you're going to go on a ride and there's a chance it will kill you. Or when you watch a horror movie, you want to scream and then like laugh afterward because your head hasn't been chopped off."
As longtime friend and fellow comic Kathy Griffin noted on Twitter, Gottfried "would be the first" to make a joke of his own death.
Gilbert would be the first one to make a joke about this picture today. The first. And he would not hold back. https://t.co/B8hszsDGcI
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 12, 2022
Gottfried's fearlessness and friendship led him to be beloved by fellow comedians and entertainers, many of whom like Griffin paid tribute Tuesday.
Gilbert 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. My best wishes and sympathy to his family. #ripGilbertGottfried
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) April 12, 2022
I shall miss you, my friend, my sometimes foil, my always pain in my side, usually from the belly laughs. The heavens are a great deal louder with you out there now, I’m sure. Keep ‘em shaking their heads and smiling, Gilbert. https://t.co/Wv1UGlKCQy
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) April 12, 2022
Gilbert, I don’t want to believe this. I loved him. I’m heartbroken for his beautiful family. Say it ain’t so. For almost 40 years his spectacular comedy blew me away.
You can’t be funnier. My God, all who experienced him are crushed. Say it ain’t so.🙏♥️ https://t.co/pO3HW36ta7
— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) April 12, 2022
Gottfried is survived by his wife, producer Dara Kravitz, as well as daughter Lily, 14, and 12-year-old son, Max.