LOS ANGELES — With an ever-present smile that gave way to ready laughter, Dom DeLuise possessed a jovial warmth that charmed not only film and TV audiences, but the actors and directors with whom he worked for decades. Though lighthearted onscreen, the prolific actor was deeply passionate about food, forging a second career as a popular chef and cookbook author.
The affable and portly star, described as a natural comedian who kept the laughs rolling even when the cameras weren’t, died Monday at age 75.
“You can’t teach someone to be funny,” his agent, Robert Malcolm, said Tuesday. “He was born funny, and he knew how to charm you and he knew how to make you feel comfortable. He loved people.”
DeLuise was surrounded by his wife and three sons when he died “peacefully” Monday evening at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., Malcolm said.
The family did not release the cause of death, saying only in a statement on the actor-comedian’s official Web site Tuesday: “It’s easy to mourn his death but easier to remember a time when he made you laugh.”
DeLuise appeared in scores of movies and TV shows, in Broadway plays and voiced characters for numerous cartoons. Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks particularly admired DeLuise’s talent for offbeat comedy and cast him in several 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.”
“Dom DeLuise was a big man in every way,” Brooks said in a statement Tuesday. “He was big in size and created big laughter and joy. He will be missed in a very big way.”
The actor also frequently appeared opposite his friend Burt Reynolds in films such as “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 a situation comedy, “Lotsa Luck,” but it proved to be short-lived.
“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 TV show “The Entertainers” in the ’60s. DeLuise also appeared on “The Carol Burnett Show” in the 1970s.
Other TV credits included 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.
In part because of his passion for food, the actor battled obesity, reaching as much as 325 pounds and for years resisting family members and doctors who tried to put him on various diets. He finally agreed in 1993 when his doctor refused to perform hip replacement surgery until he lost 100 pounds (he lost enough weight for the surgery, though gained some of it back).
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 Good.”
DeLuise also wrote seven books for young children. “Charlie the Caterpillar” published in 1993, is an original tale of an ugly-but-loveable caterpillar whose appearance prevented him from making friends. DeLuise also gave popular children’s stories, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” his own comedic twist.
He strongly resembled the famed chef Paul Prudhomme and joked in a 1987 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 alternated between films and television thereafter.
“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.”
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.
“My dad knows everything there is to know about garbage,” one of the actor’s sons, David DeLuise, said 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. For five years, he sought work in theater or television with little luck, and finally decided to enroll at Tufts College to 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 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 “SeaQuestDSV,” in which Peter and Michael were regulars. David was one of the co-stars of the hit children’s series “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
Besides his wife and three sons, DeLuise is survived by his sister, Anne, and grandchildren Riley, Dylan, and Jake. Memorial services will be private, the family said, and has asked that donations be made to DeLuise’s favorite charities: The Elixir Fund, which supports cancer patients and their families; parrot rescue agency The Lily Sanctuary; The Hydrocephalus Foundation, which supports victims of the incurable brain condition; and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.