Beloved Japanese comedian Ken Shimura died March 27, a week after contracting the coronavirus. He was 70.
The Tokyo native was revered in his home country, where he is a household name and has been called “Japan’s Robin Williams.”
“He was popular among a wide range of generations and was the No. 1 source of pride for locals,” Minoru Hasegawa, 69, a fellow native of Shimura’s home city, told the Japan Times.
Shimura was hospitalized on March 20 after developing a fever and being diagnosed with pneumonia. He tested positive for the virus on March 23, becoming the first Japanese celebrity to announce his infection, and to pass from the disease.
Shimura was known for his parodies and slapstick comedy bits, including the “mustache dance,” and a song about his home city of Higashimurayama in western Tokyo. Following his high school graduation, he joined the well-known Japanese comedy group the Drifters in 1974. Among Japan’s best-known comedy troupes, the group had opened for the Beatles when they performed in Japan in 1966. The group’s surviving members were too shocked to yet issue statements regarding Shimura’s death.
“I am sure he was working hard with a sense of mission to deliver laughter to people,” a representative from Shimura’s agency says. “I don’t think he imagined he would die a death like this.”
The funnyman stayed active until his death, starring in numerous TV programs, and was to begin work on a movie in April. He was set to run the Tokyo Olympic torch relay representing Higashimurayama in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until they were postponed until next year.
“I cannot think anything now. I can no longer see Ken-chan. This is too sad,” Japanese singer Naoko Ken tweeted of Shimura’s death.
Another Tokyo resident bemoaned the laughter Shimura would no longer be able to bring. “He was our hero. I wish he could entertain us more,” says Toshio Takazawa, 70, who recalled going to see the Drifters live in his childhood.
Japan’s health ministry recorded 173 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, with 68 in Tokyo, the biggest single-day spike for the capital, CNN reports.