The Big Life: Dom DeLuise 1933-2009

Dominick "Dom" DeLuise was a man of many talents. He was an actor, comedian, film director, television producer, chef, and author.

DeLuise was born in Brooklyn on August 1, 1933 and made his acting debut aged six in a school production of Peter Rabbit. His obese shape won him atypical roles at the time, including that of a coin which had rolled under a bed, and a very young, very fat Thomas Jefferson. Back then, he had no desire to act professionally. Instead he wanted to become a biologist and after leaving school he enrolled at Tufts College to study the subject, but lasted only one term. He immediately joined join Cleveland's Cain Park Theatre in 1952. From there he went to Broadway in 1960 and only four years later he would make his television debut in the "Dean Martin Show." It was the same year that he would make his debut in feature films in "Fail-Safe", a powerful drama about the cold war. However, drama was not his calling.

If there was one thing he excelled at though, that was making people laugh. DeLuise had a broad, slapstick style of physical humor. He derived this approach from his, Jackie Gleason, star of the sitcom the Honeymooners. DeLuise was a master improviser of throwaway lines, gestures and bug-eyed looks of surprise delivered casually with perfect timing. Such a talent was not overlooked, and hence it gave him plenty of opportunities in the entertainment business.

DeLuise appeared in a score of movies and TV shows, in Broadway plays and voiced characters for numerous cartoons. Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks was particularly fond of DeLuise and admired the portly actor’s talent for offbeat comedy. Brooks cast the actor in several of his movies, most notably in Blazing Saddles. He also appeared in Brook’s The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs & Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Brooks called him "A big man in every way. He was big in size and created big laughter and joy." His co-stars would often praise the actor for continuing to joke when the cameras were not rolling; a fact particularly recalled by Gene Wilder. DeLuise appeared with Gene Wilder in several films, including "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" which Wilder directed. "During three months of rehearsals and prerecording our songs, Dom DeLuise kept us laughing," Wilder wrote in his memoirs. "When the actual filming started, he kept the whole crew laughing, not just with his acting but also between takes. He was the funniest man, in person, that I've ever known."

DeLuise co-starred frequently with Burt Reynolds in such films as Smokey and the Bandit 2, The End, and The Cannonball Run (Parts 1 & 2). They would go on to make nine movies together and ultimately become the best of friends. “A great big piece of my heart is gone," Reynolds spoke about DeLuise, "It seems to be a cliché these days to say someone is irreplaceable, but for me, Dom is."

"He was born funny," said DeLuise's agent, Robert Malcolm. "He knew how to charm you and how to make you feel comfortable." Veteran actress Doris Day, with whom DeLuise worked on 1966 film The Glass Bottom Boat also shared memories about DeLuise. "I loved him from the moment we met. Not only did we have the greatest time working together, but I never laughed so hard in my life."

DeLuise enjoyed considerable success and fame with movies. But his luck with TV did not fare too well. "Lotsa Luck," a sitcom in which he played a bachelor New York City bus company's lost-and-found department custodian, ran for only a year. He also starred in "The Dom DeLuise Show," in which he played a Hollywood barber and widowed single father of a 10-year-old daughter which also ran for only a year. In 1991, he hosted the short-lived syndicated return of the classic comedy-reality show "Candid Camera." That barely lasted two seasons. But it didn't waver DeLuise's attitude.

DeLuise battled a weight problem for most of his life, sometimes weighing 325 pounds or more. In later years, Mr. DeLuise wrote several cookbooks and children's books and occasionally appeared as a television and radio chef. He said his interest in cooking came from his mother. "She was always ready to cook at a moment's notice," he said. "She carried around two meatballs in the bun in her hair." Though he continued to find new ways to make people laugh, the same cannot be said for him trying to maintain his health which continued to deteriorate through the years.

Dom DeLuise died at the age of 75 in Los Angeles on May 4, 2009. He is survived by his sons Michael, Peter and Dave, all of whom work in the entertainment business; his wife, Carol; and three grandchildren.

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