Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Culture

Gilbert Gottfried, an iconic and inimitable comedic voice, dies at 67

Gilbert Gottfried, the onetime voice of the Aflac duck, the “Aladdin” parrot Iago and the filthiest roaster on any dais, has died at the age of 67.

On the comedian’s Twitter page, Gottfried’s family announced that he had passed after a long illness.

Known for his adenoidal speaking voice, Gottfried first broke out as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” where his short run was largely free of his vocal trademark. He made a bigger impression for his role in “Beverly Hills Cop II” and as an impressionist and regular guest on “The Howard Stern Show.”

It was Gottfried’s voice — a kinda constantly irked shrill — that cemented him as a fixture of television shows like “Hollywood Squares.” In many ways, he felt like a throwback to the likes of character actors like Peter Lorre, often aping the delivery of Old Hollywood figures like Bela Lugosi and Groucho Marx.

It is an abiding irony that, like his good friend Bob Saget, Gottfried became known to many through media designed for children, playing the short-tempered bird sidekick Iago in the “Aladdin” films. Anyone who has ever witnessed a roast featuring Gottfried — and I’d direct you to his extremely NSFW Joan Rivers one — knows that Gottfried had a gift for the foulest turns of phrase imaginable. The same voice that was approved by Disney said unspeakable things, and later, as the voice of the Aflac duck, would be recalled due to insensitive tweets about a tsunami in Japan.

Gottfried was always keen to push the envelope. On one episode of “Howard Stern,” director Amy Heckerling’s babysitter called in, distraught that Gottfried, learning her parents were Holocaust survivors, once joked that he admired how they lost all that weight. When Gottfried heard the call, he cackled over her objections and imitated her accent. In Heckerling’s words, Gottfried was “truly a sick person and can’t help himself.”

Gottfried, who once told the Times of Israel he was delighted to crack a white supremacist list and was once seen chatting with a Nazi uniform-clad fan at a hotel (when the fan apologized for the his wardrobe, Gottfried said “why? It’s not wrinkled). Gottfried, who played Hitler in a Netflix roast of Anne Frank, found humor in a defining Jewish tragedy, even at the risk of appalling his coreligionists and most people with a sense of normal boundaries.

Given the comic’s penchant for offensive remarks — no taboo was too much, no taste too poor — it was heartening to see a tender side of the comedian. In the 2016 documentary “Life, Animated” Gottfried met an autistic man who opened up by watching Disney films, including “Aladdin.” In a tear-jerking moment, Gottfried makes a surprise appearance to read a scene from the film with him.

The 2017 documentary film “Gilbert,” showing his family life, also domesticated the “Problem Child” star’s image, as did a pandemic-era appearance wherein Gottfried witnessed a woman taking a shower during his daughter’s Zoom bat mitzvah.

In perhaps the greatest victory lap for a voice actor, Gottfried played two major roles in his final years: that of Jesus in the podcast “Godcast” and of God Himself in an episode of the Adult Swim show “Smiling Friends.” When he meets the Almighty, they already have something in common.

Always a subversive act, Gottfried’s voice will echo in the annals of Jewish comedy, having given us all tinnitus.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.