Legendary and beloved comedian Gilbert Gottfried has passed away. His official Twitter account posted a statement from his family that the 67-year old stand-up comic had died after a long, unspecified illness. Gottfried’s career stretched back to the burgeoning comedy scene of New York City in the 1970s. Over the decades, he worked in television, film, podcasts, and virtually every medium in which a comedian can perform. He was particularly noted for his shrill, choked voice, a distinctive tone that became his trademark. By the time of his passing, Gottfried had developed a reputation as an elder statesman of comedy and a comedian’s comedy. He will be sorely missed.
Gilbert Gottfried began performing stand-up comedy as a teen in his native New York City, quickly excelling and making a name for himself in that highly competitive atmosphere. He joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1980 (during one of their periodic retooling of the venerated sketch comedy program), though he ended up appearing on-air very little. Gottfried also began appearing in small parts in comedic movies, like Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop II and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (starring his fellow standup comic Andrew Dice Clay). Around this time period, Gottfried developed his trademark nasal voice, which was very different from his natural speaking tone. In interviews, Gottfried claimed that he had not intentionally created the voice, but that it had developed naturally as part of his stage act and became recognizable enough that booking agents hired him for it.
It is unsurprising that Gilbert Gottfried excelled in voice acting, given the distinctiveness of his delivery. Undoubtedly, his most famous role was in Disney’s 1992 animated film Aladdin, in which he voiced the villain Jafar’s henchbird Iago. Although the character was originally envisioned as a dignified British villain type, his performance in Beverly Hills Cop II convinced the filmmakers to rewrite and develop the character into a loud, irritable type in Gottfried’s vein. Reportedly, the animators even reworked the character to more physically resemble the comedian, a high mark of praise from the notoriously strict and demanding studio at the time. Iago would become his trademark character, reprised in various animated sequels, television shows, and video games.
In addition to his work with Disney, Gilbert Gottfried starred in all three Problem Child films (being the only cast member to do so) and either appeared or voice acted in literally dozens of other shows and films. He was also particularly noted for his work in commercials, voicing the corporate mascot the Aflac Duck until he was summarily fired in 2011 for making jokes about a recent natural disaster. However, that was not unusual in Gilbert Gottfried’s career. While he often appeared in children’s entertainment, he was devoted to the idea that tragedy and comedy were interconnected and was fearless in addressing terrible and terrifying events through the lens of comedy. Gilbert Gottfried was a figure much loved in comedy, a tireless performer, and a lasting part of many people’s beloved childhood entertainments. Rest in Peace, Gilbert.