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Farewell, Iago – The Australian Jewish News

Gilbert Gottfried, the comic with a grating persona whose boundary testing got him cancelled more than once, has died.

His family announced Gottfried’s passing “after a long illness” on Tuesday on Twitter. He was 67. Various outlets reported he suffered from a heart condition related to myotonic dystrophy.

A 2017 documentary revealed that contrary to his foul-mouthed routine, Gottfried was a sweet and loving Jewish dad. Photos scattered through his family home show a loving father who adored his family, especially his children.

Gottfried was reluctant to let that truth get out. “I was too much of a wimp to say no” to the filmmaker, Neil Berkeley, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Gottfried, who affected a high nasal voice for his comic appearances, was a boundary crosser, and it got him into trouble at times. In 1991, Fox apologised after Gilbert, hosting the Emmy awards, kept joking about fellow comic Pee-wee Herman’s recent arrest for masturbating in an adult movie theater.

That dampened Gottfried’s career — for a while. He continued to score gigs in movies, on talk radio (frequently with Howard Stern), on sketch shows and sitcoms, and as a voice on cartoons. He was the funny animal sidekick, Iago the parrot, in Disney’s Alladin. For those who grew up with the hilariously cranky parrot, simply hearing Gottfried’s voice brings back memories of the easily frustrated, mischievous bird.

Then he famously told perhaps the first joke about the September 11, 2001 attacks, just a few days after terrorists piloted airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

At a roast for Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, Gottfried said he had to catch an early flight for Los Angeles because the only one he could find had “to make a stop at the Empire State Building.”

He lost the audience — for a moment. He recovered with one of the raunchiest-ever tellings of the notoriously raunchy joke that has The Aristocrats as its punchline.

“I’ve always said tragedy and comedy are roommates,” Gottfried told Vulture in 2019. “Wherever tragedy’s around, comedy’s a few feet behind them sticking his tongue out and making obscene gestures.”

Aflac, the insurer whose trademark duck Gottfried voiced and which was his most lucrative gig, dropped him in 2011 after he made jokes on Twitter about the tsunami in Japan.

Gottfried’s self-inflicted wounds seemed to be timed by decades.

“I don’t regret the joke,” he told JTA. “I regret losing the money.”

Sometimes the raunch found Gottfried. In 2020, during his daughter’s bat mitzvah, held on Zoom because of the pandemic, a 70-year-old woman unwittingly removed her bathing suit and took a shower in full view of the other participants.

Gottfried credited his wife for turning him around from a notoriously parsimonious bachelor into an attentive dad who walked his two kids to Hebrew school. He met Dara Kravitz, a music executive, in the late 1990s at a Grammys party he was attending because of the free food. She dropped food on the table and he picked it up and put it on his plate.

Gottfried grew up in secular Jewish home in Brooklyn. When he and Dara married in 2007, she insisted on a wedding under a chupah and raising their children with a Jewish education.

Dara Gottfried adored her “gentle genius” and was bemusedly frustrated by his shyness when not performing. “Open up a little, Gil!” she chided him during a 2013 New York Times interview. In the same interview, Dara praised her husband as a loving, caring, devoted dad, who would much rather hang out with kids than with other adults. ““I knew I’d never find anyone else like him,” she said.

Gottfried’s kindness showed in other ways, too, with the 2017 documentary showing Gottfried accompanying his sister, street photographer Arlene Gottfried, to chemo sessions. She died of cancer in 2017. In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Gottfried, perhaps unwittingly, revealed his own gifts in explaining why he admired his sister so much. “Someone else couldn’t see the funny or odd or touching thing, and capture it,” he said.

His family, in their message, appealed to the public to keep Gottfried’s love for humor in mind. “Although today is a sad day for all of us, please keep laughing as loud as possible in Gilbert’s honor,” the message said.

Celebrities and fans have flooded social media with tributes to the late star.

One fan even posted a photo of Genie and Iago, saying they’re together again, of course, referencing Robin Williams who passed away in 2014.

With JTA

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