Considered a comedian, Gilbert Gottfried kept his life-threatening illness a secret from everyone except his closest friends. He did what he could to preserve his wild sense of humor, even as death approached. Appropriately enough, those who occupied his inner circle strived to make Gottfried, who died Tuesday at the age of 67, laugh.
Penn Jillette, who met Gottfried decades ago when they appeared together on the Howard Stern show, was among the last to speak to the comedian. “Being in the room with Gilbert was like being in the room with Miles Davis,” Jillette said of her late friend’s free-running, improvisational talents.
Jillette’s wife, Emily, was in the hospital room with Gottfried and his wife, Dara, and she held a telephone in Gottfried’s ear so that the two comedians could have one last conversation.
“Twenty minutes before he was officially dead when they were to pull the fan off Gilbert, I talked to him,” Jillette, who was strangled, told The Post. “I was trying to make a few jokes. Then I fell apart and said, ‘I love you.’ Thats it.”
Jillette, who is a believing scientist, added: “I have no delusions that he understood me.”
Gottfried died of recurrent ventricular tachycardia, a heart disease caused by type 2 myotonic dystrophy.
Jillette told The Post that even as he battled a deadly disease, the comedian – like, “when he was not working, [could be] incredibly soft-spoken and gentle and not evil “- maintained his comic edge.
“We always liked to make cross-border humor,” Jillette said. “If you thought Gilbert was not safe for work on TV or movies or Stern, you have no idea how far Gilbert can go.”
Sharing, he told The Post’s reporter, “would end my career and yours and his memory in one fell swoop.”
According to Frank Santopadre – a friend and co-host of “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing, Colossal Podcast! With Frank Santopadre” – less than a month before his death, Gottfried was still as funny as ever.
“I do not think he thought his days were running out,” Santopadre told The Post. ‘I think he thought he would get better and soldiers on. Two weeks ago he performed in Toronto and it was business as usual. Then we did our podcast on March 31st and he delivered. Gilbert did not in any way behave like a person slowing down. “
Out of the studio, Santopadre said, “I would ask how he was doing. Gilbert would say he was fine, dodge the question and move on. He’s a guy who would be funny. Gilbert called me on the phone, “I replied, and he began to make an impression. I loved his Herve Villechaize as Al Pacino’s character in ‘Scent of a Woman,’ as he threw himself headlong and milked the French accent for all it was worth.”
Comedian Judy Gold did her best to keep her friend’s mood up.
“In January, I texted Gilbert a totally inappropriate joke. He replied ‘LOL’.” But, she added, just as Gottfried tried to keep his illnesses hidden, sometimes it was impossible: “Just before Covid, I took him on stage at the Gotham Comedy Club, and he needed my hand to get up there. If you knew Gilbert, you could see he was sick. “
However, that did not stop him from joking with death. “Gilbert [performed at] an advantage for my child’s school, ”she recalled. “A woman had a stroke during Gilbert’s sight and she died. We joked that it was sad, but to make it even more sad, the last thing she heard was Gilbert’s voice.”
When it came to dark humor, Jillette reminded that Gottfried did not cut himself very loosely. “He made a lot of jokes about dying. He had a defibrillator in him [chest]. If his heart went down, the defibrillator would kick him in the chest and it would be like being kicked by a horse. He would say, ‘Horses hate me. They hate little Jews. They stand in line to kick me in the chest. The horses have a newsletter about it. ‘”
Even the medical staff got a taste of his comic sensibility.
“Very close to the end, doctors wanted to see if there was brain damage,” Jillette said. “They asked him to count to show that he was ready. Instead, he sang the theme song for ‘Car 54, Where are You?'”
He and Jillette even joked with his death notice.
“I called Gilbert on his 67th birthdayth birthday and told him, ‘You can die now because the obituary would not say you died young,’ “Jillette said.
When she noticed that the mutual friend Bob Saget’s death was mourned but still provided comic fodder, Jillette remembered that she discussed how Saget’s demise dominated the news cycle and how the tribute could look to Gottfried.
“He said he wanted to hit the Case,” Jillette recalled. “Gilbert said the case was given six days [of headlines] and he would get at least three. Gilbert does not want to make the front page of People, but I think he will get 300 years of people talking about him. That is his artistic level. ”