As Japan begins setting record numbers of confirmed coronavirus infections on a daily basis, the country has sadly reported its first celebrity death after 70-year-old comedian Ken Shimura passed away on Sunday night at 11:10pm.
The veteran performer was hospitalized on March 20 before being positively diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 23. It is reported that Shimura died of pneumonia caused by coronavirus.
Shimura has been a Japanese comedy mainstay for more than 45 years. Known for his slapstick sketches and wide range of facial expressions, Shimura (real name Yasunori Shimura) rose to fame in the ‘70s when he replaced Chu Arai in the much-loved comedy group The Drifters, one of the opening acts for The Beatles when they performed at the Budokan in 1966.
The group’s weekly program called Hachijidayo Zen’inshugo! (It’s Eight 0’Clock Everyone, Gather Around!) reached viewing figures of 40 to 50 percent at its peak. Shimura was a prominent performer on the show, best remembered for his “mustache dance” with Cha Kato and the song “Higashimurayama Ondo” about the area he grew up in western Tokyo.
Throughout his career, Shimura played a whole host of characters including “Baka Tonosama” (The Stupid Lord), about a feudal leader whose only intention was to have fun, and “Henna-na Oji-san” (Strange Old Man) who ran around after nubile women, a bit like the old British comedian Benny Hill.
In April, Shimura was scheduled to start working on Yoji Yamada’s movie God of Cinema based on the book The Name Above the Title. His death will no doubt come as a huge shock to those who have grown up watching his sketches. We’ve selected a few of our favorites below including his famous English lesson, a brilliant door prank and some guest appearances from legendary Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen.
R.I.P. Ken Shimura, Japan’s king of comedy.