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Mort Drucker, the iconic Mad magazine cartoonist, dies at 91

Legendary cartoonist Mort Drucker, who for decades drew caricatures of the biggest politicians and Hollywood celebrities for Mad magazine, died Thursday in New York. He was 91.
Legendary cartoonist Mort Drucker, who for decades drew caricatures of the biggest politicians and Hollywood celebrities for Mad magazine, died Thursday in New York. He was 91.
(Bernard Weil / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Mort Drucker, the self-taught cartoon legend who for decades drew caricatures of the biggest politicians and Hollywood celebrities for Mad magazine, has died at his home in New York. He was 91..

One of Drucker’s daughters told the Associated Press that he fell ill last week, having difficulty walking and developing breathing problems. She did not give a specific cause of death and said that he was not tested for the coronavirus.

Drucker inspired generations of artists and admirers with his illustrations for Mad magazine’s film and television satires, which helped define the baby boomer generation’s sense of humor. Drawings of his subjects were intricate and playful, wacky and idiosyncratically, unmistakably his.

“The world has lost not just an extraordinary talent but a shining example of kindness, humility and humor,” tweeted the National Cartoonists Society on Thursday.

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Throughout his long career, Drucker drew hundreds of stars and politicians, often in multi-caricature crowd scenes. Among his famous subjects included Princess Diana and the entire royal family, Whoopi Goldberg, former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. He also drew parodies of “West Side Story,” “Star Trek,” “The Godfather,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and other films.

“I think I’ve drawn almost everyone in Hollywood,” Drucker told the New York Times in 2000.

For many celebrities, being drawn by the revered artist was a symbol of success. Michael J. Fox was among his biggest fans, having once said: “Mort Drucker drew my head. God, that was thrilling!”

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“I can’t think of any artist who has intrigued, entertained and flat out made me laugh more than you,” Fox once wrote in a thank-you note to him.

“It felt like we had really made it when we were brutally mocked in the pages of @MADmagazine!,” Mark Hamill said in a tweet Thursday. “Truly a career highlight & when it came to spot-on, uncanny caricature, there was no finer artist than Mort Drucker. Simply the best ... by far.”

Drucker was born March 22, 1929, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Edward, a plumber, electrician and businessman, and Sarah, a homemaker. He went to Erasmus Hall High School, where he met Barbara, his future wife. They had two daughters. Years later in 1995, he attended The Art Institute of Boston.

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For as long as he could remember, Drucker wanted to draw cartoons. It was the only thing that interested him besides football, and he believed he could make a living from it.

“I really wanted to be a cartoonist,” Drucker told Newsday in 1989. “I would be bored doing a portrait, like a camera. Or a car; I can’t draw a car straight. I don’t want to draw a car straight.”

Drucker’s career as an illustrator started when he was 18 and landed a job as an assistant for the syndicated comic strip “Debbie Dean, Career Girl.” He went on to work for DC Comics (then called National Periodical Publications), where he worked as a retoucher, fixing the errors in the “Batman” and “Superman” comics. He stayed on with them as a freelancer after he left to find other work.

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His days working for Mad magazine began in the 1950s when he dropped off his portfolio, which was full of drawings he’d created as a DC Comics cartoonist. Mad’s editors were impressed and hired him.

Drucker, though, said it took him years to fully hone his skills.

Drucker also drew television animation, album covers, illustrations for children’s books and magazine covers, including dozens for Time magazine.

His 1970 Time magazine piece, “Battle for the Senate” is one of several in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute. George Lucas commissioned him to create the poster art for his 1973 film “American Graffiti.” He also published, among others, the best-selling political coloring book “The JFK Coloring Book,” a collaboration with comedy writer Paul Laikin.

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Drucker’s accolades and honors included the 2015 National Cartoonists Society’s Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement and his induction in 2017 into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife of more than 70 years; daughters Laurie Bachner and Melanie Amsterdam; and three grandchildren.


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