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Tuesday December 26 04:39 PM EST (E-Online)

Classic Comic Pianist Victor Borge Dies

Victor Borge, the comedic musician who tickled not just sweet sounds from the ivories but sweet laughter from the audience, has played his final note.

Borge died peacefully in his sleep Saturday at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 91.

His daughter, Rikke Borge, told the Associated Press, "I think he brought laughter to every person he came in contact with. He had a long and happy life."

In 1953, the Danish satirist's Comedy in Music opened on Broadway. It ran 849 performances, a record for a one-man show. It toured the globe and was revised on Broadway in 1964 and 1977. The musical wit's records, videos, CDs and books sold worldwide to generation after generation of fans. And he continued to perform into grand old age, also establishing a second career as a conductor with major orchestras such as the London Philharmonic and the Royal Copenhagen.

Born Borge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, he was a classically trained pianist who made his concert debut at the age of eight. But he said he never had "the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair" to flourish as a concert pianist. In Scandinavia he also worked as a composer, actor and movie director before escaping the Nazi invasion of his homeland in 1940s.

Landing in America, he had little money and little knowledge of English, but soon began performing in nightclubs. He became the warm-up act for Rudy Vallee's radio show, then a regular cast member of Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall series, and eventually had his own radio show on NBC. Television variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show further broadened his appeal, ultimately leading to the triumph of Comedy in Music.

Audiences fell in love with his charming silliness. Poking fun at the masterpieces he loved, he embellished his performances of these classics with sight and sound gags, pratfalls, shaggy dog stories, eccentric pronunciation and audible punctuation. He even got laughs from not playing: One of his routines involved seating himself on the piano stool, going through elaborate preparation, but never actually performing the composition. Another standard was to intersperse "Happy Birthday" into the works of composers such as Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart.

His unique act earned him such nicknames as "The Clown Prince of Denmark," "the comedian of the keyboard," and "the unmelancholy Dane." He received knighthoods from the Scandinavian countries and in 1999, America honored him at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His hobbies included sailing and gourmet cooking, and he raised rock Cornish game hens on his farm in Connecticut.

Only last year, Borge commented to the New York Times on his long career: "What I do, I do well and I know it. I have always worked for two audiences at the same time. One is sophisticated, the other not musically oriented. I notice that the ones who laugh most are composed of professionals, as when I do my act with orchestras. But my jokes must be understood by everybody. Nobody must be bored. It is a fine line that I work."

Borge's second wife, Sanna, died last September. He is survived by five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Page maintained by Werner Knudsen, wkn@kor.dk. Copyright © Werner Knudsen. Created: 26-12-2000 Updated: 09-01-2006
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