His publicist told the Washington Post that he died of myotonic dystrophy type 2, a form of muscular dystrophy.
“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 family wrote on Twitter.
Many people in Hollywood, including comedians Jason Alexander, Dane Cook and more, paid tribute to Gottfried after the shocking news of his death. “Gilbert Gottfried was never not funny,” wrote Cook. “He was a lovely guy, always friendly and made many people happy.”
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) April 12, 2022
Gottfried was known for his crude humor, political incorrectness and shrill voice, which helped give life to a number of animated characters, such as Iago the parrot in Disney’s “Aladdin,” the robotic bird Digit in PBS Kids’ “Cyberchase” and the Aflac duck in commercials for the insurance company.
He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 28, 1955, and started performing stand-up comedy at just 15. Gottfried had a short, 12-episode stint on “Saturday Night Live” during Season 6 in 1980, and he reunited with his “SNL” colleague Eddie Murphy on “Beverly Hills Cop II,” one of his first major film roles. Howard Stern frequently invited Gottfried on his radio show in the ’80s, where he impersonated people like Andrew “Dice” Clay, Groucho Marx and Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
By the ’90s, Gottfried landed roles in films like the “Problem Child” movies, “Highway to Hell” and “Looks Who’s Talking Too,” before landing his most recognizable voice role as Iago the parrot in 1992’s “Aladdin.” Iago was the annoying but funny comic relief who accompanied the villain Jafar, and Gottfried reprised the role in two direct-to-video sequels, a TV series and the “Kingdom Hearts” video games.
His other major voice roles included Kraang Subprime in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Mr. Mxyzptlk in “Superman: The Animated Series,” Dr. Bender and his son Wendell in “The Fairly OddParents,” plus “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” “Duckman,” “Disney’s House of Mouse” and countless more.
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In the 2000s and 2010s, Gottfried became a regular on celebrity roasts and game shows. He appeared in Comedy Central roasts of Bob Saget, Joan Rivers, David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump and Roseanne Barr, plus game shows like “Hollywood Squares” and “Pyramid.”
His edgy and crude humor, however, got him into trouble on several occasions. Three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gottfried joked that he couldn’t catch a direct flight from New York to California because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” The crowd gasped and decried “too soon,” but Gottfried was able to win the audience over and quickly made headlines by telling one of the first 9/11 jokes.
Live at the 1991 Emmy Awards, Gottfried made several masturbation jokes about Paul Reubens’ recent arrest for masturbating in an adult movie theater, which resulted in Gottfried being blacklisted by producers. The comedian also lost his job of voicing the Aflac duck after tweeting jokes about the 2011 Tohoku Japanese earthquake disaster, which was the fourth most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan.
Director Neil Berkeley created a documentary, titled “Gilbert,” about the comedian’s career and personal life in 2017. In his review for Variety, film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote: “Gottfried displays no regrets; he has the courage of his abrasive conviction. The most offensive joke we see him tell is one in which he compares his own daughter to Mackenzie Phillips — but if the joke, on some level, is indefensible, it’s really one designed to mock his own insecurities. He is full of fear, but fearless. He’s just kidding, but totally means it. He’s a man who puts on his entire stand-up personality like a moth-balled old suit, but once he’s in character he is never more himself. You may or may not walk away from ‘Gilbert’ a Gilbert Gottfried fan, but either way the movie makes you glad he exists.”
Gottfried is survived by his wife, Dara Kravitz, and two children, Lily and Max.