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TOKYO — Veteran Japanese slapstick comedian Ken Shimura has died after contracting the new coronavirus, local media reported on Monday, marking the first high-profile death in the country since the outbreak began.

Shimura, 70, was a member of a Japanese comedy band The Drifters (not to be confused with the American R&B group) and starred in the group’s prime-time television comedy show “Hachijidayo Zeninshugo!” (“It’s 8 o’clock, gather round everyone!“) that was popular with children but not so much with parents.

The TV show, launched in 1969, has one of the highest ratings in Japanese television history.

Shimura, who said in his memoir that he drew inspiration from Jerry Lewis, “captured the hearts of all generations with his penchant for funny faces and ability to deliver jokes as if they were unscripted,” Kyodo News reported, noting sketches such as the “mustache dance” and characters such as the “stupid lord” and “strange uncle.”

Before Shimura joined the band, the Drifters were famous for a very brief opening act at the Beatles first concert in Japan in 1966.

Shimura, who was still working in television when he fell ill, was hospitalized on March 20 after developing a fever and was

diagnosed with severe pneumonia, Kyodo reported. He tested positive for the virus on March 23.

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