Ken Shimura was hospitalized on March 20 with severe pneumonia before testing positive for coronavirus three days later

By Gabrielle Chung
March 30, 2020 08:12 PM
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Ken Shimura
Credit: AP Images

Ken Shimura, a famed television comedian who has been described as Japan’s Robin Williams, has passed away from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the age of 70.

Shimura died Sunday night after he was hospitalized with severe pneumonia, his agency, Izawa Office, told CNN and Associated Press on Monday.

The comedy legend was reportedly admitted to a Tokyo hospital on March 20 when he showed symptoms of the coronavirus, including a fever and fatigue. He tested positive for COVID-19 three days later, according to CNN.

“I don’t think he imagined he would die a death like this,” a representative with his agency told The Japan Times. “I am sure he was working hard with a sense of mission to deliver laughter to people.”

Ken Shimura
Ken Shimura
| Credit: AP Images

Born Yasunori Shimura, the TV star began his career in 1974 when he joined The Drifters, a popular Japanese comedy group known for their primetime variety show, Hachijidayo Zeninshugo! (It’s 8 O’clock, Assemble Everyone!). During that time, he developed his signature brand of slapstick comedy, including his Charlie Chaplin-like “mustache dance.”

Shimura — who later cited American comedian Jerry Lewis as his inspiration — went on to star in a plethora of TV shows, creating satirical characters like “Baka Tonosama” (“Idiot Feudal Lord”) and “Henna Ojisan” (“Strange Uncle”) along the way.

Before his death, Shimura was set to star in his first feature film, God of Cinema. He was also slated to run in the Olympic torch relay to represent Higashimurayama, a neighborhood located in Tokyo’s suburbs. (The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have since been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.)

Shimura was the first celebrity in Japan to die from coronavirus.

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The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the Zika epidemic in 2016.

As of Monday afternoon, there have been 1,866 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 54 deaths from coronavirus-related illness in Japan, according to John Hopkins University.

Worldwide, there are now 766,336 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 36,873 deaths as of March 30.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.