Ken Shimura, a veteran slapstick comedian and a one-time member of rockabilly band and comedy group the Drifters, died of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus Sunday, his agency said. He was 70.
A household name in Japan, Shimura last week became the first Japanese entertainment figure to announce their infection with the virus. His agency announced on Monday his death from the disease known as COVID-19.
Shimura was admitted to a Tokyo hospital on March 20 after developing a fever and diagnosed with severe pneumonia. The comedian was put on a ventilator on March 21 and never regained consciousness. He tested positive for the virus on March 23.
"I don't think he imagined he would die a death like this," said a representative of his agency. "I am sure he was working hard with a sense of mission to deliver laughter to people."
The surviving members of the Drifters -- Cha Kato, 77, Boo Takagi, 87, and Koji Nakamoto, 78, -- who also belong to the same agency, were too shocked to issue a statement yet, according to his management.
Famous Japanese songstress Naoko Ken tweeted of her friend's death, "I cannot think anything now. I can no longer see Ken-chan. This is too sad."
"I was happy working with you. Thank you," Ken, who played Shimura's wife in TV comedy skits, also wrote.
His death also made headlines outside of Japan. Reuters reported that he "was one of the country's best-known comedians." The BBC, CNBC and Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency also reported the news as did media in other countries and regions such as Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted in a condolence message written in both Japanese and Chinese, "Thank you very much for a lot of laughter and energy you delivered to Taiwanese people beyond national boundaries."
BDST: 1320 HRS, MAR 30, 2020