Gilbert Gottfried has cackled his way into the hearts of millions. His strong accent and satirical humor will live on in fans’ hearts for generations. On April 12, Gottfried took his last breath after suffering from ventricular tachycardia, a condition that results in a faster-than-normal heart rate, which he had been hiding from the public’s eye. With his unexpected passing at the age of 67, the comedy community mourns the loss of a noble artist. Although Gottfried is gone, his legacy will live on along with his voice, one of the most iconic in comedy to date.
Gottfried’s Life and Beginning
Gottfried was born Feb. 28, 1955, in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in southwest Brooklyn, where his family owned a small shop run by his father and grandfather. Gottfried lived with his parents and two sisters above the store. He was raised Jewish but wasn’t religious. Gottfried describes the memories of his early life in an interview with “Running Late with Scott Rogowsky”: “My father owned a hardware store in Coney Island then… in the middle of nowhere. Not near the Cyclone or anything. I never saw anyone go in there.” He later moved to Crown Heights, and then to Borough Park, still remaining within Brooklyn.
His career in stand-up comedy began at the age of 15, when he performed his first show at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village while accompanied by his sisters for moral support. After this, he continued to perform his comedy skits and developed a stage persona that embraced shock value. Eventually, Gottfried was cast in Season 6 of “Saturday Night Live,” although he described being on the show as a “false start.” In an interview with Talks at Google, he said: “Back then, ‘Saturday Night Live’ with a different cast would be like if in mid-season of ‘Friends’ they changed all the actors on you.” In spite of the rough start, “Saturday Night Live” began Gottfried’s acting career.
In the late ‘90s, Gottfried attended a Grammy Awards party where he met his wife, Dana Kravitz, who recalls their fated encounter: “I had just turned 27, and Gilbert was 42. We met at a party at Tavern on the Green. I was there because I was in the music business, and he was there for the free food.” In 2007, after 10 years together, they married and had two children: Max and Lily, named after Gottfried’s parents. Kravitz explained how their relationship began: “I was young, outgoing and social. Gilbert was shy and introverted. We were opposites, but like two pieces of a puzzle, we fit perfectly together.”
Gottfried has played a multitude of iconic roles for both adults and children, leaving his characteristically shrill voice imprinted on fans’ brains. In 1987, Gottfried starred in a small role as Sidney Bernstein in “Beverly Hills Cop II.” When Detective Axel Foley visits Bernstein at his job and threatens to arrest him over unpaid parking tickets, Bernstein adopts a sarcastic tone and bribes the detective. Many fans have described this scene as one of the most iconic in the film. Gottfried also starred in “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” as Johnny Crunch, which secured his nomination for the 1990 Golden Raspberry Award for worst supporting actor. It was the first film in which Gottfried died on screen and was criticized mainly for its crude humor.
One of his most iconic works was found in “The Aristocrats” in 2005, where Gottfried told one of the funniest yet filthiest jokes ever uttered. His joke left the audience in shock and dying of laughter — they would remember this moment for years to come.
Gottfried’s iconic voice was also used in various children’s TV shows and movies, one of his best-known roles being Iago in Disney’s animated “Aladdin.” In the film, Gottfried plays a talking parrot who is also the sidekick of Jafar, the main villain of the movie. Iago is quite arrogant and known for his greed and thirst for gold, but he also provides comic relief throughout the film. Gottfried went on to continue the role in various sequels and video games.
In the PBS kid’s series “Cyberchase,” Gottfried played Digit and Widget, originally the sidekicks to Christopher Lloyd’s character, Hacker. Gottfried’s characters, whom he played for 13 seasons, were also birds, albeit cyborgs. In an interview with Brooklyn Paper, Gottfried said, “It’s funny to me, now that I’m playing Digit on ‘Cyberchase,’ because people tell me, ‘My kids love that show, they learn so much from it.’” He described himself, however, as being a horrible student, which made his role ironic, in his opinion. Gottfried also starred in “Be Cool About Fire Safety,” a short film targeted toward children. Gottfried played Seymour Smoke Detector, a talking smoke detector that would aggressively cough and make alarm sounds when exposed to smoke.
Although Gottfried is loved by many, a few controversies have followed him throughout his career. At the 43rd Primetime Emmy Awards in 1991, Gottfried made several masturbation jokes — censored for later audiences — in reference to Paul Reubens’ arrest for masturbating in a theater; in his most memorable line of the night, he said, “[If] masturbation’s a crime, I should be on death row.” Fox issued a formal apology, and Gottfried was never invited back. Despite his ban, many fans found his performance to be hilarious and quite entertaining.
Gottfried’s over-the-top jokes didn’t end there. During “The N.Y. Friar’s Club Roast of Hugh Hefner,” three weeks after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Gottfried made a joke that had the audience shouting, “Too soon!” He said, “I have to catch a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight. They said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” After the mixed reviews from the audience, Gottfried went on to tell his Aristocrats joke, which later appeared in the aforementioned film “The Aristocrats” and became an iconic moment in comedy history.
Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Gottfried tweeted several jokes. His tweets contained lines such as, “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them,” and “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” In response to his jokes, Aflac, the American insurance company, dropped Gottfried as the voice for its mascot.
Although Gottfried became famous for his crude and satirical jokes, his legacy lives on in the hearts of millions. Many millennials can say that Gottfried’s shrill Brooklyn accent followed them through their childhood days watching “Aladdin” and “Cyberchase” into their adulthood with “The Aristocrats.” Gottfried was truly a one-of-a-kind figure, leaving his audience in shock while simultaneously coaxing out smiles and laughter. Although he is now gone, Gottfried will live on in history through his iconic jokes and terrific roles. Gilbert Gottfried lives on in the hearts of us all.