Ken Tucker
May 05, 2009 AT 08:19 PM EDT

Dom DeLuise was a roly-poly delivery-system for joy. Whether he was clowning with Dean Martin on TV or making his buddy Burt Reynolds crack up in films like Cannonball Run, DeLuise’s effusive happiness was infectious. He radiated funniness through his popping eyes and his rapid-fire way of talking.

DeLuise was an old-fashioned stand-up comic and actor who got his laughs from the way he delivered a line as much as from the joke itself. Sometimes he played up an Italian accent; sometimes he just jabbered with great artistry: his nonsense made great comic sense.

DeLuise appeared in Mel Brooks films such as Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, and The Twelve Chairs. He was in a bunch of Burt Reynolds movies. This is the work he’ll probably be remembered for, because it’s what is most accessible. But he first came to prominence in nightclubs and then TV, where he was throughout the 1960s and ’70s a superb talk-show and game-show guest, really quick with improvised lines. Just watch this clip of Dom with Johnny Carson:

DeLuise had a sweetness that was tinged with naughtiness. He was the very embodiment of loveable, which is something you can’t say about many comedians.

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