TOKYO - Popular Japanese comedian Ken Shimura, who drew inspiration from the American comedic icon Jerry Lewis, has died from the coronavirus, becoming Japan's first known celebrity victim of the disease. He was 70.
Shimura, who attracted fans of all generations with his slapstick comedy and funny faces, had been treated at a Tokyo hospital and died on Sunday, according to his agency, Izawa Office.
He was diagnosed with pneumonia after contracting the coronavirus. He was hospitalized on March 20 after developing a fever and breathing troubles, and was put on on a ventilator.
The news of his death comes as new cases have spiked in Tokyo, with the city's governor warning of an explosive spread of the virus in the region. The news topped Japanese television news and talk shows on Monday, and some fans and media gathered outside the hospital where he had been treated.
Tokyo had 68 new cases of the virus on Sunday, bringing its prefectural total to 430. Nationwide, Japan has confirmed 2,578 cases, including 712 from a cruise ship.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Shimura's death sent shock waves throughout Japan, where many people, especially the younger population, are seen as lacking a sense of urgency about the virus.
"I'm shocked to hear that he died so soon after his infection was reported," a 21-year-old college student told NHK television. "Until now, the risk of getting infected seemed someone else's problem, but I'm scared of it now."
Shimura was a former member of the comedy rock band the Drifters, a household name in the 1970s and 1980s, and gained fame while starring in the group's prime-time comedy show "It's 8 o'clock, Gather Everyone!"
Born Yasunori Shimura, he recently was known for his popular character Baka Tonosama (Stupid Warlord) on TV comedy shows. He also led his comedy theater, Shimurakon (Shimura Spirit), since 2006.
He also was known as a fan of the late American comedian Jerry Lewis and had drawn inspiration from him.
Shimura's death came as he was preparing for a new film. He was also to run in the Olympic torch relay in July to represent Higashimurayama, a town in Tokyo's suburbs, his agency said. Japan and Olympic officials have agreed to postpone the games until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I don't think Shimura himself expected to have to go this way," an Izawa Office staff member told reporters, adding that his comedy shows were still upcoming on TV.
"I hope you will remember him and laugh," he said. "Until the end, he was committed to present laughter to the people."