British comedy actor Norman Wisdom dies aged 95

5th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

British comedy actor Norman Wisdom, famous for his slapstick film roles in his trademark cloth cap and ill-fitting jacket, has died at the age of 95, his family said.

Wisdom passed away peacefully Monday in a nursing home on the Isle of Man after suffering a series of strokes in recent months.

Tributes poured in for the star, one of Britain's most popular comedians since World War II, who the late Charlie Chaplin once described as his "favourite clown."

Wisdom rose to stardom with a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s, such as "Trouble in Store" and "A Stitch in Time", which usually involved his cheery cloth-capped "Gump" character as an underdog battling adversity.

After discovering his talent for acting while in the army, he appeared in 19 films and numerous television comedy series.

The diminutive star fought his way to the top after a poverty-stricken childhood and was honoured with a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

In a bizarre twist to his career, he became a cult figure in communist Albania where he was the only Western actor whose films were allowed to be shown in the country during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.

The British performer was greeted by hundreds of fans when he visited Albania in 1995 after the fall of communism.

His family paid tribute to a "much loved father and grandfather", in a statement.

"Over the last six months Norman has sustained a series of strokes causing a general decline in both his physical and mental health," said the statement.

"Over the last few days his condition rapidly declined," it said, adding: "He was in no pain or distress and peacefully passed over at 18.46 (1745 GMT) on October 4."

Johnny Mans, his agent for more than 30 years, told the BBC: "It's absolutely devastating. I thought he'd go on until he was at least 100 and get his telegram from the Queen.

"He was not only a client, he was my best friend."

Jan Kennedy, managing director of Billy Marsh Associates, the agency which discovered Wisdom in the early 1950s, paid tribute to his "remarkable" career.

"Norman was simply a beloved comic genius. His whole personality projected a childlike warmth and innocent appeal that touched the hearts of everyone," she said.

"Norman literally made audiences worldwide cry with laughter, and his endearing talents live on through the universal happiness of his films and recordings."

Born on February 4, 1915, he had a tough upbringing in London. His parents, a chauffeur and a dressmaker, divorced when he was nine and he was brought up by his father.

Money was often so short that Wisdom was forced to steal food.

He left school at 13 and took a job as an errand boy and later joined the army.

While performing a comedy boxing routine in an army gym, the young man discovered that he had a talent for entertainment, and began to work on it.

After a charity concert in a town hall during World War II, actor Rex Harrison came backstage and urged Wisdom to become a professional entertainer.

Leaving the army in 1946, Wisdom made his debut as a professional entertainer at the age of 31. His rise to the top was phenomenally fast.

A West End star within two years, he made his TV debut the same year and was soon commanding enormous audiences.

Wisdom was married twice and had two children with his second wife, the late Freda Isobel Simpson, who was a dancer.

He announced his retirement on his 90th birthday, saying he intended to spend more time with his family, playing golf and driving around the Isle of Man, where he lived later in life.

© 2010 AFP

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