LONDON – Ken Dodd, a titan of a vanishing age of British comedy whose U.K. fame at its peak rivaled that of The Beatles, has died, his publicist said Monday. He was 90.
Publicist Robert Holmes said Dodd died Sunday at his Liverpool home — the same house where he was born in 1927. Dodd, who had recently been hospitalized with a chest infection, married his long-time partner Anne Jones on Friday.
Instantly recognizable for his unruly mop of hair and snaggletoothed grin, Dodd came up through the hardscrabble ranks of Britain’s variety circuit, where performers kept demanding crowds entertained with songs, a bit of dance and a slew of jokes.
Dodd was famous for his rapid-fire one-liners, surreal imaginative flights of fancy, use of fanciful words like “tattyfilarious” and marathon stand-up shows. Even in his 80s, Dodd’s shows often ran three to four hours. In the 1960s he held the Guinness world record for the longest joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours.
His signature prop was a tickling stick — a sort of comedy feather duster — and he was often joined by colorfully clad, diminutive companions known as the Diddy Men.
Holmes said Dodd “was one of the last music hall greats.”
“With Ken gone, the lights have been turned out in the world of variety,” he said.
In his 1960s and ’70s heyday, Dodd’s fame in Britain was stratospheric. He played a record 42 straight weeks at the London Palladium, hosted prime-time TV shows and hit the music charts with songs including his signature tune “Happiness”
His 1965 song “Tears” was the third-bestselling single of the decade in Britain, surpassed only by The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
On Monday Paul McCartney tweeted a picture of The Beatles with Dodd in the 1960s, alongside a statement bidding “farewell to my fellow Liverpudlian the tattyfilarious Ken Dodd. Beloved by many people in Britain and a great champion of his home city and comedy. We met him on a few occasions as The Beatles and always ended up in tears of laughter. Today it’s tears of sadness as well. See you Doddy.”
A low point for Dodd came in 1989, when he was charged with tax fraud. He was acquitted after a five-week trial at which his lawyer, George Carman, told jurors: “Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants.”
Dodd was knighted last year by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming Sir Ken Dodd. He gave his final performance in Liverpool at the end of December.
Flags on official buildings flew at half-mast in Dodd’s home city on Monday. Lord Mayor Malcolm Kennedy said: “Liverpool has lost one of its greatest sons.”
Fans had left flowers and tickling sticks in tribute outside his home, where his wife spoke to reporters.
“The world has lost a most life-enhancing, brilliant, creative comedian with an operatically trained voice, who just wanted to make people happy,” she said.