Comic thesp was living in exile

Iraqi comic actor Rasim al-Jumaili died in Damascus, Syria Dec. 1. He was 69.

The head of the Iraqi Actors’ Association, Hussein al-Basri, said Jumaili died of a blood infection.

The thesp was living in exile, driven out by the bitter violence raging in his homeland.

President Jalal Talabani, mercilessly lampooned by Jumaili in a recent television series, expressed the sorrow felt by many Iraqis that the actor had died abroad and agreed to meet the costs of bringing his body home for burial.

Most of Iraq’s film and television industry relocated to Damascus after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 — among them the well-loved Jumaili, who was known as the “people’s actor.”

He most recently played The Chief — based on Talabani — in political comedy “Anba al-Watan” shot in Syria, which screened on the Dubai-based Al-Sharqiya satellite channel during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Jumaili, known for his comic roles on stage, television and the cinema screen, told Al-Sharqiya television recently that he had initially feared taking on what was an overtly political role.

“But when I read the script I saw it was fun — both comical and critical,” he said.

“We are not disrespecting anyone with this type of political humor. We are criticizing positive and negative issues that Iraqis are suffering from.”

Jumaili was born in Baghdad and launched an acting career that spanned radio, theater, television and stage with a sparkling debut in a school play at age 11.

Graduating from Baghdad’s fine arts academy in 1964, he spent most of his early career on stage, making his name with “July 14,” a drama centered on the date in 1958 when Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim formed a military government in Iraq.

He later shifted to comedy, especially on the big screen, cutting a memorable figure with his wide girth and booming voice.

He was a founder of the National Theater Group, which he formed with like-minded comic actor friends in 1987, and was also the author of many popular plays, mainly comedies.

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