Actor and comedian Gilbert Gottfried, whose shrill voice caught the attention of his early stand-up audiences and moviegoers, has died at the age of 67, according to his family.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Gilbert Gottfried after a long illness,” his family wrote Tuesday in a statement shared on his verified Twitter account.
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) April 12, 2022
Gottfried, who had been living in South Florida for the past few years, made a name for himself with his piercing voice and often crude humor.
His family described Gottfried as the “most iconic voice in comedy” and said he was a “wonderful husband, brother, friend and father to his two young children.”
Glenn Schwartz, Gottfried’s longtime friend and publicist, told NBC News that Gottfried died Tuesday afternoon from recurrent ventricular tachycardia due to myotonic dystrophy type II.
Gottfried spoke with WPTV as recently as January after the death of Bob Saget, his friend and fellow comedian, in Orlando.
“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a sick joke,’ and I was waiting for the punchline,” Gottfried told WPTV’s Tania Rogers, recalling when he learned of Saget’s death.
WATCH: Gilbert Gottfried explains how he learned of Bob Saget’s death
Gottfried had been scheduled to perform at the Palm Beach Kennel Club’s Paddock Restaurant on May 13.
The Brooklyn-born stand-up comedian had been a fixture of the New York comedy club scene in the 1970s, but his chance to catapult into the mainstream came in 1980, when he joined the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” for its sixth season. Instead, Gottfried’s impressions (of film director Roman Polanski and former U.S. Rep. David A Stockman, R-Mich.) and lone recurring character (Leo Waxman on the talk show sketch, “What’s It All About?”) never took off, and he was fired after just one season.
In addition to his stand-up acts, Gottfried had several bit parts in popular movies like “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Problem Child” and its sequel. He also provided the voice of Iago the wise-cracking parrot in Disney’s 1992 animated film “Aladdin.”
Gottfried also served as the host of “USA Up All Night,” which featured mostly low-budget movies bookended by Gottfried’s comedy skits and sardonic comments. The show aired on the USA Network from 1989 to 1998.
His humor had been the subject of controversy throughout the years, notably upsetting a national television audience at the 1991 Primetime Emmy Awards with a barrage of masturbation jokes aimed at Paul Reubens (better known as Pee-Wee Herman), who had been arrested a month earlier on an indecent exposure charge at an adult movie theater in Florida. Fox, which televised that year’s Emmy Awards, censored the broadcast for West Coast audiences and issued a statement calling Gottfried’s jokes “irresponsible and insulting.”
Gottfried also knew how to turn national tragedies into punchlines, becoming one of the first comedians to joke about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, just three weeks removed from the deadliest act of terrorism in human history.
During the roast of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner at the New York Friars Club in 2001, Gottfried’s joke was met with boos and ridicule from the audience. Gottfried had to win them back with a raunchy rendition of the Aristocrats joke.
Gottfried was the original voice of the Aflac duck in commercials for the Columbus, Georgia-based insurance company, but a series of tweets in which he joked about the devastating 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami that left more than 2,400 people dead resulted in his ouster after 11 years. He later issued a public apology.
“Although today is a sad day for all of us, please keep laughing as loud as possible in Gilbert’s honor,” his family said.