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Dennis Wolfberg; Gifted Stand-Up Comic Was 48

October 05, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis Wolfberg, who won an American Comedy Award in 1990 as best male stand-up comedian and was twice voted America's top male comic, died Monday. He was 48.

Wolfberg died of melanoma at his Culver City home, publicist Lori Jonas announced.

Ironically, Wolfberg had given benefit performances for the Wellness Community, which aids cancer patients, after a high school friend developed cancer.

Wolfberg was known for his unusual delivery, in which he would squint, then bulge out his eyes and puff his cheeks, literally squeezing out words as if he were passing kidney stones. Critics have called him "perhaps the most verbally adroit comic working today . . . flat-out hilarious" and "one of those rare comics who can take the simplest moments of life and turn them into the greatest laughs you'll ever have."

Noting that he was flattered when other comics attempted to imitate him, Wolfberg said in a 1991 Times interview that his use of his unusual eyes just happened.

"It's in no way calculated," he said. "I am truly not aware of anything I do with my eyes. It's not an affectation, but it seems to work comedically."

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Wolfberg attended Queen's College and taught sixth grade in the South Bronx for 12 years. He also received a master's degree in clinical psychology.

Moving into stand-up comedy in the mid-1970s, Wolfberg drew on his teaching experience for material. Later, when he married former stand-up comic Jeannie McBride at the age of 39 and fathered three sons, he created routines based on their activities.

"Basically," he once said, "the crux of my act is my own life."

Wolfberg starred in his own half-hour comedy special on HBO in 1990. He also appeared in a recurring role as a strange scientist on the television series "Quantum Leap" and was a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show," "The Merv Griffin Show" and others. He has been profiled by "Entertainment Tonight."

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to Dennis Wolfberg's Melanoma Gene Therapy Fund, UCLA Johnson Cancer Center Foundation, 9-667 Louis Factor Building, 10833 La Conte, Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-1781.

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