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Ken Shimura, a popular comedian in Japan, has died after contracting the coronavirus, becoming the country’s first known celebrity victim of the disease. He was 70.
Shimura — who drew inspiration from the late comedic icon Jerry Lewis and attracted fans of all generations with his slapstick comedy and funny faces — had been treated at a Tokyo hospital and died on Sunday, according to his agency, Izawa Office.
He was diagnosed with pneumonia after contracting COVID-19. Shimura was hospitalized on March 20 after developing a fever and breathing troubles and was put on a ventilator. He reportedly tested positive for the virus on March 23.
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The news of his death came as new cases have spiked in Tokyo, with the city’s governor warning of an explosive spread of the virus in the region. The news topped Japanese television news and talk shows on Monday, and some fans and media gathered outside the hospital where doctors had tried to save Shimura’s life.
His death sent shock waves throughout Japan. Shimura was a former member of the comedy rock band the Drifters, a household name in the 1970s and 1980s, and gained fame while starring in the group’s prime-time comedy show, “It’s 8 o’clock, Gather Everyone!”
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As People magazine noted, Shimura has been described as Japan’s Robin Williams.
Born Yasunori Shimura, he recently was known for his popular character Baka Tonosama (Stupid Warlord) on TV comedy shows. He also led his comedy theater, Shimurakon (Shimura Spirit), since 2006.
Shimura’s death came as he was preparing for a new film. He also had been set to run in the Olympic torch relay in July to represent Higashimurayama, a town in Tokyo’s suburbs, his agency said. Japan and Olympic officials have agreed to postpone the games until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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“I don’t think Shimura himself expected to have to go this way,” an Izawa Office staff member told reporters, adding that some of his comedy shows were slated to air on TV.
“I hope you will remember him and laugh,” he said. “Until the end, he was committed to present laughter to the people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report