Gilbert Gottfried, comedian and voice actor, has died after a rare muscle disease, myotonic dystrophy type II, led to an irregular heartbeat. He was 67.
Gottfried was instantly recognizable by his distinctive voice and brazen, often shocking sense of humour. The stand-up comedian joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1980 and later gained widespread recognition through work he did with MTV. Gottfried was also involved in many animated projects, famously voicing the wisecracking parrot Iago in Disney’s Aladdin (1992), The Return of Jafar (1994) and Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996).
Gottfried is survived by his wife Dana, his 14-year-old daughter Lily and 12-year-old son Max. The family released a statement on Twitter most serious of moments.
“Gilbert’s brand of humour was brash, shocking and frequently offensive, but the man behind the jokes was anything but,” co-host and producer of the podcast Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!, Frank Santopadre, said in a statement. “Those who loved him and were fortunate enough to share his orbit, knew a person who was sweet, sensitive, surprisingly shy and filled with a childlike sense of playfulness and wonder.”
Myotonic dystrophy type II
Gottfried lived with myotonic dystrophy type II, a genetic muscle disorder that ultimately triggered an irregular heartbeat (Recurrent Ventricular Tachycardia) publicist Glenn Schwartz said in a statement.
Muscular dystrophy is a collection of conditions where the body is hampered in developing proteins to build muscle. This leads to gradual loss of muscle mass which, depending on the type of condition, can affect mobility and the functioning of organs.
Myotonic dystrophy type II can cause prolonged muscle tensing (myotonia), particularly in the neck, hips, elbows and fingers. It is a genetic disorder, meaning the condition is passed on through the generations. It can also affect major organs in the body, like the heart and pancreas. Approximately one in 8,000 people are affected by myotonic dystrophy, however, it is not entirely clear what the proportion is between type I and type II — it likely varies based on geography and genetic history.
Although symptoms typically begin in a patient’s 20s and 30s the slow, progressive nature of the condition often means symptoms aren’t diagnosed until much later, Elizabeth McNally, the director of the Northwestern University Center for Genetic Medicine, told NBC News.
Symptoms typically include muscle pain, weakness, and being unable to release muscles after a contraction — for example, difficulty loosening their grip after grabbing onto something. Slurred speech and locking of the jaw may also occur.
Type II is considered less severe than type I and doesn’t necessarily result in a shortened lifespan. However, in some cases it can still affect mobility as well as major organs — such as the heart.
Recurrent ventricular tachycardia
Gottfried died of ventricular tachycardia (v-tach), an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that causes the lower chambers of the heart to beat rapidly, according to Johns Hopkins medicine.
In a healthy heart beat, or sinus rhythm, the four chambers of the heart have to beat in a regular, synchronized manner in order to pump the blood through the lungs and then out to the rest of the body. When certain chambers of the heart begin to bear erratically or out of sync, it can severely limit the blood that is sent to critical areas of the body like the brain and heart.
In v-tach, the two lower chambers of the heart beat so rapidly that they may not fill with enough blood to pump to the rest of the body, which can have devastating effects. In some instances the heart may correct itself within a few seconds, but longer episodes can be fatal. Symptoms of v-tach include chest pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, light-headedness and shortness of breath.
In medical conditions where ventricular tachycardia frequently occurs, cardiologists often recommend medications or fitting the patient with a pacemaker or defibrillator, which can help the heart return to a normal heart rhythm.
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