Comedic actor Dom DeLuise dies

His career spanned theater, TV and film

Dom DeLuise, an antic comedian whose chubby frame and daffy darting glances delighted audiences on stage, television and in the movies for five decades, died Monday night. He was 75.

One of his three sons, actor Michael DeLuise, told KTLA-TV and radio station KNX in Los Angeles that his father passed away peacefully in his sleep around 6:30 p.m. after a long illness.

A native of Brooklyn, DeLuise's roly-poly energy and high hysterics garnished several movies with his pal Burt Reynolds, beginning with "The End" (1978) and including "Smokey and the Bandit II" (1980), "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982) and the "Cannonball Run" films in 1981 and '84.

For Mel Brooks, DeLuise brought his inspired mania to "The Twelve Chairs" (1970), "Blazing Saddles" (1974), "Silent Movie" (1976), 1981's "History of the World -- Part I" (in which he did an uproarious spoof of Marlon Brando's Godfather), 1987's "Spaceballs" (as Pizza the Hutt) and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993).

His raucous performances also enlivened two Gene Wilder comedies: "The World's Greatest Lover" (1977) and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" (1975).

The actor, who loved to cook and eat almost as much as he enjoyed acting, also carved out a second career as a chef. He wrote two cookbooks and would appear often on morning TV shows to craft his favorite recipes. He wrote a pair of children's books and was an opera buff.

"I was dreading this moment," Reynolds told "Entertainment Tonight." "Dom always made everyone feel better when he was around. "I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. I will miss him very much."

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 his TV show. His career quickly accelerated.

DeLuise worked on "The Entertainers" in 1964 with Carol Burnett, appeared for eight years on "The Dean Martin Show" and did memorable turns on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and "The Flip Wilson Show." Later, he starred as Stanley on the short-lived series "Lotsa Luck" in 1973.

With his exuberant, manic glint, DeLuise was a popular guest on TV talk shows, appearing with Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Steve Allen, Joey Bishop and David Frost. He was a frequent guest and occasional substitute host for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

In 1991, he became host of the TV show "The New Candid Camera."

The son of Italian immigrants, DeLuise was born Aug. 1, 1933. He made his first off-Broadway appearance at age 8. After graduating from the High School of the Performing Arts in New York, he attended Tufts College in Medford, Mass. During that time, he spent two seasons at the Cleveland Playhouse, then worked several summers on stage in Provincetown, Mass.

DeLuise made his New York debut in the off-Broadway production of "Little Mary Sunshine," followed by "All in Love," "Half Past Wednesday" and "Another Evening With Harry Stoons." He delighted audiences in the Neil Simon comedy "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers."

Sidney Lumet cast DeLuise in his first dramatic role in "Fail-Safe" (1964). His early films also included "The Glass Bottom Boat" (1966) with Doris Day, "The Busy Body" (1967), "What's So Bad About Feeling Good?" (1968), "Norwood" (1970), "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971) and "Every Little Crook and Nanny" (1972).

Said Day: "I loved him from the moment we met (on "The Glass Bottom Boat"). 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 such a sweet man."

DeLuise also starred with George Segal and Natalie Wood in "The Last Married Couple in America" (1980) and was Kermit the Frog's agent in "The Muppet Movie" (1979). He starred in "Fatso" (1980), directed for the American Film Institute by Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft.

In 1979, he made his movie directorial debut with "Hot Stuff" (1979), co-starring Suzanne Pleshette and Jerry Reed. Onstage, DeLuise directed Reynolds and Burnett in "Same Time, Next Year" at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Fla.

More recently, DeLuise provided his voice for several projects, including "The Secret of NIMH," "An American Tail," "All Dogs Go to Heaven," "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" and "Instant Karma."

In 1983, he executive produced a TV movie, "Happy," in which he also played the title role, a once-famous TV clown pitted against a ruthless killer. His three sons -- David, Michael, Peter -- appeared with him.

In addition to his sons, survivors include Carol, his wife of 43 years.