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Dom DeLuise, actor, comedian, chef, dies at 75

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 | 4:21 p.m. CDT; updated 8:38 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Dom DeLuise in 1988 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — Dom DeLuise, the portly actor-comedian whose affable nature made him a popular character actor for decades with movie and TV audiences as well as directors and fellow actors, has died. He was 75.

DeLuise died Monday night, his son Michael DeLuise told radio station KNX on Tuesday. The comedian died in his sleep after a long illness. Calls to Dom Deluise's agent and his son were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The actor, who loved to cook and eat almost as much as he enjoyed acting, also carved out a formidable second career later in life as a chef of fine cuisine. He wrote two cookbooks and would appear often on morning TV shows to whip up his favorite recipes.

As an actor, he was prolific, appearing in scores of movies and TV shows, in Broadway plays and voicing characters for numerous cartoon shows.

Mel Brooks cast him often

Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks particularly admired DeLuise's talent for offbeat comedy and cast him in several of his films, including "The Twelve Chairs," ''Blazing Saddles," ''Silent Movie," ''History of the World Part I" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." DeLuise was also the voice of Pizza the Hutt in Brooks' "Star Wars" parody, "Spaceballs."

The actor also appeared frequently in films opposite his friend Burt Reynolds. Among them, "The End," ''The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," ''Smokey and the Bandit II," ''The Cannonball Run" and "Cannonball Run II."

Reynolds fondly recalled DeLuise in a statement issued by his publicist.

"I was thinking about this the other day," Reynolds 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. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. I will miss him very much."

Another actor-friend, Dean Martin, admired his comic abilities so much that he cast DeLuise as a regular on his 1960s comedy-variety show. In 1973, he starred in the situation comedy "Lotsa Luck," but it proved to be short-lived.

'A very special human being'

"To know Dom was to love him and I knew him very well. Not only was he talented and extremely funny, but he was a very special human being," said actress Carol Burnett, who starred with DeLuise on the TV show "The Entertainers" in the 1960s. DeLuise also appeared on "The Carol Burnett Show" in the 1970s.

Other TV credits include appearances on such shows as "The Munsters," ''The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.," ''Burke's Law," ''Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" and "Diagnosis Murder."

On Broadway, DeLuise appeared in Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" and other plays.

Because of his passion for food, the actor battled obesity throughout much of his life, his weight reaching as much as 325 pounds at one point. For years he resisted the efforts of family members and doctors who tried to put him on various diets. He finally agreed in 1993 when he needed hip replacement surgery and his doctor refused to perform it until he lost 100 pounds.

He and his family enrolled at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., and DeLuise lost enough weight for the surgery, though he gained some of it back afterward.

Creative in the kitchen

On the positive side, his love of food resulted in two successful cookbooks, 1988's "Eat This ... It Will Make You Feel Better!" and 1997's "Eat This Too! It'll Also Make You Feel Better."

At his Los Angeles home, DeLuise often prepared feasts for family and friends. One lunch began with turkey soup and ended with strawberry shortcake. In between were platters of beef filet, chicken breast and sausage, a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs and a saucer of lettuce.

He strongly resembled the famed chef Paul Prudhomme and joked in a 1987 Associated Press interview that he had posed as Prudhomme while visiting his New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen.

DeLuise was appearing on Broadway in "Here's Love" in the early 1960s when Garry Moore saw him and hired him to play the magician "Dominick the Great" on "The Garry Moore Show."His appearances on the hit comedy-variety program brought offers from Hollywood, and DeLuise first came to the attention of movie goers in "Fail Safe," a drama starring Henry Fonda. He followed with a comedy, "The Glass Bottom Boat," starring Doris Day, and from then on he alternated between films and television.

"I was making $7,000 a week — a lot of money back then — but I didn't even know I was rich," he recalled in 1994. "I was just having such a great time."

Doris Day enjoyed working with him

Day remembered him Tuesday as "such a sweet man."

"I met Dom when we were filming 'The Glass Bottom Boat,' and I loved him from the moment we met," she said from Carmel, Calif. "Not only did we have the greatest time working together, but I never laughed so hard in my life as when we were together."

He was born Dominick DeLuise in New York City on Aug. 1, 1933, to Italian immigrants. His father, who spoke only Italian, was a garbage collector, and those humble beginnings stayed with him throughout his life.

"My dad knows everything there is to know about garbage," one of the actor's sons, David DeLuise, told the AP in 2008. "He loves to pick up a broken chair and fix it."

DeLuise's introduction to acting came at age 8, when he played the title role of Peter Rabbit in a school play. He went on to graduate from New York City's famed School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Breaking in was tough

For five years, he sought work in theater or television with little luck. He finally decided to enroll at Tufts College and study biology, with the aim of becoming a teacher.

Acting called him back, however, and he found work at the Cleveland Playhouse, appearing in stage productions that ranged from comedies like "Kiss Me Kate" to Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

"I worked two years solidly on plays and moving furniture and painting scenery and playing parts," he remarked in a 2006 interview. "It was quite an amazing learning place for me."

While working in summer stock in Provincetown, Mass., he met a young actress, Carol Arthur, and they were soon married.

The couple's three sons, Peter, Michael and David, all became actors and all appeared with their father in the 1990s TV series "SeaQuest DSV," in which Peter and Michael were regulars. David is one of the co-stars of the hit children's series "Wizards of Waverly Place."

 


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