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Published:May 6th, 2009 10:23 EST
Actor/Comedian Dom DeLuise Passes Away at 75

Actor/Comedian Dom DeLuise Passes Away at 75

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Dom DeLuise, the ample sized actor/comedian whose larger-than-life jovial animated personas are as well-known as his earlier zany comedy in many commercially successful films, variety shows and sitcoms on television, passed away at the age of 75 in his Califormia home.

DeLuise died in his sleep Monday night after suffering from an undisclosed illness, his son Michael said on radio station KNX on Tuesday.

The actor, whose passions for food and cooking almost trumped his love for comedy and acting, took fewer and fewer roles in his later years while putting his culinary talents to use as a chef of fine cuisine. Not averse to the media spotlight, DeLuise penned two highly-successful cookbooks as well as making numerous appearances on morning talk shows to cook many of his most cherished recipes.

In an acting career stretching back to 1954 when he made his professional and television debut on "Tinker`s Workshop", DeLuise balanced his time between countless roles in Hollywood and on Broadway.

After a tenuous career on television in the 1950`s, DeLuise started his Broadway career in the play "Heres Love" in the early 1960s, when he was discovered as the appealing comic he was, by television show host Garry Moore and requested him to play the magician jokester "Dominick the Great" on his self-titled comedy-variety show. DeLuise was well-received by critics and TV audiences alike for his performance on "The Garry Moore Show", and soon gained notice from movie producers. "Fail Safe," the 1964 drama starring Henry Fonda, marked his first exposure to movie goers. Apparently, producers liked what they saw out of the 31-year-old actor/comedian, and at the same time he made a hilarious cameo in the TV show "The Munsters", he resumed the character actor niche he continued throughout his film career in the 1966 film "The Glass Bottom Boat" featuring Doris Day in a leading role.

The oddball star became renowned for his cameos and routines on television, before TV executives molded a comedy show around his eccentric antics in the late 1960s.

By the 1970s, DeLuise`s nutty brand of comedy attracted the attention of the famous comedic writer/director/actor Mel Brooks who cast him in parts centered around his strange comical appeal, such as Buddy Bizarre, a flamboyantly homosexual film director, in the seminal racy comedy "Blazing Saddles". DeLuise also starred in "The Twelve Chairs," "Silent Movie", "History of the World Part 1," and " Robin Hood: Men in Tights": all directed by Brooks. Perhaps one of his most recognized roles for Brooks was as Pizza the Hutt, a spoof of Jabba the Hutt, in the film parodying the "Star Wars" franchise, "Spaceballs."

He was also a prominent character actor that received billing on many of his friend Burt Reynolds` films especially during peak years in the 1970s and 1980s. The two actually met filming their first film together "The End" in 1977, and acted together in other films such as "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Smokey and the Bandit II," "The Cannonball Run" and "Cannonball Run II". DeLuise and Reynolds both lended their voice talents to the animated feature film "All Dogs Go to Heaven".

Upon learning of his beloved friend`s passing, Reynolds warmly reminisced about DeLuise in a statement released by his publicist.

"I was thinking about this the other day," he began. "As you get older and start to lose people you love, you think about it more and I was dreading this moment. Dom always made you feel better when he was around and there will never be another like him. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. I will miss him very much."

Another celebrity friend of his, Dean Martin, loved his off-the-wall comedy and subsequently cast DeLuise as a weekly player on his 1960s comedy-variety hour. But his success on TV didn`t pan out into the following decade as his sitcom "Lotsa Luck" lasted only one season.

Actress/Comedienne Carol Burnett recalled fond memories of the friend who co-starred with her on the short-lived TV comedy "The Entertainers", and later joined the actress on an episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" in 1971.

"To know Dom was to love him and I knew him very well," Burnett recalled. "Not only was he talented and extremely funny, but he was a very special human being."

Among his many memorable credits on television, DeLuise guest starred on "The Munsters," "Burke`s Law," "21 Jump Street," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," "Married With Children," and "Diagnosis Murder."

During his ongoing stints on Broadway, DeLuise headlined in Neil Simon`s "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" as well as other productions throughout the years.

Later in life, the actor focused his attention on providing his voice talents to animated shows like "All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series", reprising his role from the movie of the same name, as well as "Hercules," "The Wild Thornberrys," "Dexter`s Laboratory," and "Cow and Chicken."

Due to his love for food, DeLuise struggled with obesity almost his entire life, and even weighed 325 pounds at his heaviest. Family members and physicians worried about the actor`s health and constantly urged him to go on a diet. When he needed hip replacement surgery in 1993, he had no other choice but to lose the weight after his surgeon declined performing the surgery unless DeLuise lost a minimum of 100 pounds.

To slim down, the actor, with the support of his family, joined the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., where he lost the prescribed weight so he could undergo the procedure. While he may have gained some of the weight back since, he was still considered obese by medical standards.

His culinary passions did have an upside though, as he translated his cooking abilities and idiosyncrasies into the two best-selling cookbooks, "Eat This: It Will Make You Feel Better!", published in 1988 and "Eat This Too! It`ll Also Make You Feel Good," released in 1997.

DeLuise frequently cooked banquet-style dinners for family and his closest friends at his home in Pacific Palisades, California. One bill of fare he enjoyed preparing for his guests in particular consisted of six courses including turkey soup, platters of beef filet, chicken breast and sausage, a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs and a saucer of lettuce: all topped off with strawberry shortcake for dessert.

When he began his cooking career back in the 1980s, he made fun of the fact that he was frequently mistaken for Paul Prudhomme, a celebrity chef at the time, in a Associated Press interview in 1987. He even told the interviewer that he pretended to be Prudhomme on a visit to the chef`s New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul`s Louisiana Kitchen.

For legions of people born during and after the 1970s, Dom DeLuise meant nothing less than a score of unforgettable cartoon characters that familiarized them with the friendly and humorous personality of the person they never saw on-screen. In 1982, Dom DeLuise signed on to play the part of Jeremy, an oafish kind-hearted crow, in the animated children`s classic "The Secrets of NIHM", written and directed by Don Bluth. DeLuise went on to work with Bluth on three more films: "An American Tail" (1986), in which he played the lovable, bumbling cat Tiger, "All Dogs Go to Heaven" (1989), as Itchy Itchiford, and the title role of Stanley in "A Troll In Central Park" (1994). He also resumed his role as the character with an identity crisis in the sequel "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" (1991), and played the endearing vagabond Fagin in "Oliver & Company" (1988). His numerous cartoon personas throughout the 1990`s further solidified his standing as a unheralded icon in animation for even the youngest fans who will hopefully miss his talent in the years to come when they know the man behind the magic.