Gilbert Gottfried, Comedian and One-of-a-Kind Voice Actor, Dies at 67

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Gilbert Gottfried at a bar, in front of bottles and shelves
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried attends the 2017 Comedy For Cause at Gotham Comedy Club on February 7, 2017 in New York City.  (Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

Gilbert Gottfried, the actor and legendary standup comic known for his raw, scorched voice and crude jokes, has died. He was 67.

Gottfried died from a rare genetic muscle disease that can trigger a dangerously abnormal heartbeat, his publicist and longtime friend Glenn Schwartz said in a statement.

“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 said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Gottfried was a fiercely independent and intentionally bizarre comedian's comedian, as likely to clear a room with anti-comedy as he was to kill with his jokes. In his early days at the club the Comedy Store in Hollywood, the managers would have him do his impression of then-little-known Jerry Seinfeld at the end of the night to get rid of lingering patrons.

Gottfried first came to national attention with frequent appearances on MTV in its early days and with a brief stint in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in the 1980s. Gottfried also did frequent voice work for children's television and movies, most famously playing the parrot Iago in Disney's “Aladdin.”

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Gottfried was also known for his TV commercials with the insurance company Aflac, in which he frequently appeared with the company's mascot, a duck. In 2011, Aflac fired him after he tweeted a series of racist jokes about the tsunami that hit Japan that year.

It was not the first time Gottfried had been criticized for his taste in comedy. In 2001, just three weeks after 9/11, he remarked at a roast for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner that he couldn’t book a direct flight to the event because “they said they have to stop off at the Empire State Building.” The audience resoundingly booed.

“Gilbert’s brand of humor was brash, shocking and frequently offensive, but the man behind the jokes was anything but," Gottfried's friend and podcast co-host Frank Santopadre said in a statement. “Those who loved and him were fortunate enough to share his orbit knew a person who was sweet, sensitive, surprisingly shy and filled with a childlike sense of playfulness and wonder.”

Gottfried, born in Brooklyn and the son of a hardware store owner and a stay-at-home mom, was especially beloved by his fellow comedians and performers.

“I am so sad to read about the passing of Gilbert Gottfried,” actor Marlee Matlin said on Twitter. “Funny, politically incorrect but a softie on the inside. We met many times; he even pranked me on a plane, replacing my interpreter.”

“Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander tweeted that “Gilbert Gottfried made me laugh at times when laughter did not come easily. What a gift."

Gottfried is survived by his wife Dara, sister Karen, 14-year-old daughter Lily and 12-year-old son Max.

Gabe Meline contributed reporting.