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May 5, 2009

Dom DeLuise dead, age 75

ENTERTAINMENT - Dom DeLuise, the portly actor-comedian of Cannonball Run fame has been a popular character actor for decades with movie and TV audiences has died. He was 75.

Dom DeLuise died last night in his sleep after a long illness.

The actor also carved out a formidable second career as a chef of fine cuisine. He wrote two cookbooks and would often appear on TV shows as guest chef.

As an actor he appeared in almost a hundred movies and TV shows, also acted in Broadway plays and voiced characters for numerous cartoon shows.

Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks cast DeLuise in several of his films, including "The Twelve Chairs," "Blazing Saddles," "Silent Movie," "History of the World Part I" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." DeLuise was also the voice of Pizza the Hutt in Brooks' "Star Wars" parody "Spaceballs."

Opposite his friend Burt Reynolds, DeLuise starred in "The End," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Smokey and the Bandit II," "The Cannonball Run" and "Cannonball Run II."

Dean Martin, admired his comic abilities so much that he cast DeLuise as a regular on his 1960s comedy-variety show. Some of his appearances include "The Munsters," "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.," "Burke's Law," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Diagnosis Murder."

On Broadway, DeLuise appeared in Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" and other plays.

Because of his passion for food, the actor battled obesity throughout much of his life, his weight reaching 325 pounds at one point.

For years, he resisted the efforts of family members and doctors who tried to put him on various diets. He finally agreed in 1993 when he needed hip replacement surgery and his doctor refused to perform it until he lost 100 pounds. DeLuise enrolled at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., and DeLuise lost enough weight for the surgery.

His two cookbooks, both highly successful, were 1988's "Eat This – It Will Make You Feel Better!" and 1997's "Eat This Too! It'll Also Make You Feel Good." He strongly resembled the famed chef Paul Prudhomme and joked in a 1987 interview that he had posed as Prudhomme while visiting Prudhomme's New Orleans restaurant.

He was born Dominick DeLuise in New York City on August 1st 1933, to Italian immigrants. His father, who spoke only Italian, was a garbage collector, and those humble beginnings stayed with him throughout his life.

DeLuise's introduction to acting came at age eight when he played the title role of Peter Rabbit in a school play. He went on to graduate from New York City's famed School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.

He eventually found work at the Cleveland Playhouse, appearing in stage productions that ranged from comedies such as "Kiss Me Kate" to Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

"I worked two years solidly on plays and moving furniture and painting scenery and playing parts," he remarked in a 2006 interview. "It was quite an amazing learning place for me."

While working in summer stock in Provincetown, Mass., he met a beautiful young actress, Carol Arthur, and they were soon married.

The couple's three sons, Peter, Michael and David, all became actors and all appeared with their father in the 1990s TV series "SeaQuest DSV" in which Peter and Michael were regulars.

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