Dom DeLuise dies at 75; actor was a ‘naturally funny man’
Dom DeLuise, the mirthful, moon-faced comic actor who provided frequent comedic support in television variety shows of the 1960s and ‘70s and in movies starring Mel Brooks and Burt Reynolds, has died. He was 75.
DeLuise died Monday evening at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said DeLuise’s agent, Robert Malcolm. DeLuise’s wife and three sons were with him when he died. The family did not release the cause of death.
“He was a naturally funny man,” film critic Leonard Maltin told The Times on Tuesday. “He didn’t need a script to be funny, but smart people like Mel Brooks knew how to give him just the right setting and showcase.”
Brooks told The Times that his good friend “created so much joy and laughter on the set that you couldn’t get your work done. So every time I made a movie with Dom, I would plan another two days on the schedule just for laughter.
“It’s a sad day. It’s hard to think of this life and this world without him.”
Reynolds, in a statement released by his publicist, said: “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.”
The Brooklyn-born entertainer, who got his start on stage and in children’s television in the 1950s, emerged on TV variety shows in the 1960s.
The same decade, he launched his film career, including roles in comedies such as “The Glass Bottom Boat” and “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?”
But he was best known for his movie work with Brooks and Reynolds.
Beginning with playing a greedy family priest in Brooks’ “The Twelve Chairs” in 1970, DeLuise went on to appear in Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” “Silent Movie,” “History of the World: Part I,” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” -- as well as supplying the voice for the mozzarella-oozing Pizza the Hutt in Brooks’ “Star Wars” parody, “Spaceballs.”
With Reynolds, DeLuise appeared in “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “The Cannonball Run,” “Cannonball Run II,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “The End.” In the latter, DeLuise had a field day playing a frenzied schizophrenic.
The visually and verbally funny actor also appeared with Gene Wilder in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” “The World’s Greatest Lover” and “Haunted Honeymoon” -- as well as in Neil Simon’s “The Cheap Detective” and “Sextette,” starring Mae West.
DeLuise also starred in and directed the 1979 comedy “Hot Stuff,” and he starred in “Fatso,” a 1980 comedy-drama written and directed by Brooks’ wife, actress Anne Bancroft.
“He was one of these people who was gifted with the ability to make people laugh,” close friend Carl Reiner told The Times on Tuesday. “I always say that between him and Mel Brooks, it was a tossup over who can make you laugh fastest and harder.”
Until the 1970s, DeLuise was known primarily as a television personality.
While appearing in Meredith Willson’s 1963-64 Broadway musical “Here’s Love,” DeLuise did a comedy routine as an inept magician, Dominick the Great, on Garry Moore’s popular variety show.
That appearance helped pave the way for his becoming a regular on “The Entertainers,” a short-lived variety show starring Carol Burnett, Caterina Valente and Bob Newhart that ran on CBS from 1964 to ’65.
In 1966, DeLuise was a regular on “The Dean Martin Summer Show,” a variety summer replacement program starring comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.
Two years later, he hosted “The Dom DeLuise Show,” his own comedy-variety summer series on CBS. His wife, Carol Arthur, a Broadway actress whom he married in 1965, was one of the regulars.
“I never met anybody like him,” she told The Times in 1999. “He was just so much bigger than life, and he was so funny. I thought, ‘This is the way to spend a lifetime.’ ”
In the early ‘70s, DeLuise was a staple on “The Dean Martin Show,” occasionally singing in numbers with Martin and his guests and playing everything from a barber to a king’s jester to a trench coat-wearing police inspector in sketches with Martin.
DeLuise told The Times in 2005 that the show’s producer-director, Greg Garrison, gave him great confidence as a comedian.
“Greg was the man who said, ‘Just go for it; I trust you,’ ” he recalled. “I was allowed to ad-lib a great deal with Dean.”
In a golfing sketch with Martin and Bing Crosby, DeLuise played their loud, bad-joke-spouting caddie who arrives at a tee in a golf cart topped with a colorful umbrella: “I’m sorry I’m late,” he said. “I had a flat tire. That’s the first time I had a hole in one.”
DeLuise, who also appeared in some of Martin’s “Celebrity Roast” specials, didn’t fare as well as the star of his own TV series.
“Lotsa Luck,” a situation comedy in which he played a bachelor custodian in a New York City bus company’s lost-and-found department, ran on NBC from 1973 to 1974.
He also starred in the 1987-88 syndicated sitcom “The Dom DeLuise Show,” in which he played a Hollywood barber and widowed single father of a 10-year-old daughter.
And in 1991, he hosted the short-lived syndicated return of the classic comedy-reality show “Candid Camera.” Over the years, DeLuise appeared on Broadway a number of times, including replacing James Coco as Barney Cashman in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” the Neil Simon comedy that ran from 1969 to 1971.
As an actor, he provided the voice of Tiger in the animated movie “An American Tail,” as well as its sequels and TV series. He also did voices for, among other animated films, “The Secret of NIMH,” “All Dogs Go to Heaven” and “Oliver & Company.”
He even occasionally performed with opera companies, including appearing in the Los Angeles Opera Company’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” and playing Frosh the Jailer in a New York Metropolitan Opera Company production of"Die Fledermaus.”
As long as he was entertaining people, he was happy, DeLuise told The Times in 1992.
“I like the whole process,” he said. “I’ve never gone to work and wanted to do something else.”
The son of Italian immigrants -- his father was a city garbage collector, his mother a full-time homemaker -- he was born Dominick DeLuise in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 1, 1933.
The youngest of three children, DeLuise developed an interest in acting after playing Scrooge in a junior high school production of “A Christmas Carol” and went on to graduate from the High School of Performing Arts in New York.
“I became a comedian when they laughed at my serious acting,” he said in a 1997 interview with The Times.
He spent summers at the Cleveland Playhouse, where he appeared in productions as varied as “Guys and Dolls” and “Hamlet.” In 1958, he had a stint as the fourth and final Tinker the Toymaker, the host-performer-instructor on “Tinker’s Workshop” on Channel 7 in New York City.
And in the early ‘60s, he was a semi-regular on “The Shari Lewis Show,” a Saturday morning children’s show on NBC in which he played the bumbling private detective Kenny Ketcham.
Although his parents were supportive of his career, DeLuise told The Times in 1999, “I was really in this acting thing alone. My father was a peasant, a blue-collar worker, who was amazed that I got paid for what I do. He used to say, ‘If you can make money with your mouth, God bless you!’ ”
DeLuise, whose girth grew greater over the years -- reportedly weighing 325 pounds in 1999-- was obviously a man who loved to eat. He also loved to cook. In the late ‘80s, he wrote a cookbook containing his favorite Italian recipes, “Eat This: It’ll Make You Feel Better,” which was followed by “Eat This Too!”
“When I was a kid,” he wrote in the first book, “if I had a fever, had a cold, had a fight, had a fall, had a cut, was depressed, had a disappointment, fell off a truck, woke up with a headache . . . no matter what the situation, my mother’s solution was always, ‘Eat this, it’ll make you feel better.’ ”
DeLuise, who had a second career as a celebrity chef, also wrote a number of children’s books, including “Charlie the Caterpillar” and “The Pouch Potato.”
In addition to his wife, DeLuise is survived by their three sons, Peter, Michael and David; his sister, Anne; and three grandchildren.
Services will be private.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.