Cuddly Dudley, the unlikely Hollywood hero, dies at 66

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Dudley Moore, the pint-sized, piano-playing comic foil to Peter Cook who went on to become an improbably cuddly lead in Hollywood romantic comedies, died at his home in the United States yesterday. He was 66, and had been battling a degenerative disease called progressive supranuclear palsy for three years.

His Hollywood publicist said he died of pneumonia – a side-effect of the palsy – in Fanwood, New Jersey, where he lived for the past few years. He had appeared only rarely in public since giving a candid interview about his illness to the US television personality Barbara Walters two years ago. However, he did come to London last November to receive a CBE from the Queen.

Moore emerged in the early 1960s as one of the utterly refreshing, utterly irreverent comedians who made the transition from Oxbridge revues to a new generation of satires such as Beyond the Fringe and That Was The Week That Was.

His partnership with Peter Cook – arguably at its funniest when the two of them were simply sipping beers and talking in their trademark mannered voices – lasted for 20 years and led to stage shows as well as much-loved television comedy series.

Dudley was the pompous pianist who attempted to explain the meaning of an American blues classic, the one-legged actor who auditioned for Tarzan, the son who tries to get his hilariously repressed father to explain the facts of life.

Later, he hit the big time in Hollywood by starring in such box-office hits as 10 and Arthur – films that arguably have not stood the test of time as well as the comic sensibility he brought to them.

The son of working-class parents from Dagenham, London, Moore had to overcome his background, his size, and a deformed foot – all of which fed into his comic persona. His personal life was not as successful as his career, his four marriages ended in divorce.