- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

LONDON (UPI) Spike Milligan, a legend in Britain's comedy of the surreal and a favorite of Prince Charles despite once describing the royal with an expletive, has died at the age of 83 at his south England home, his agent and manager announced yesterday.

Mr. Milligan, the classic clown who was afflicted by manic depression for much of his life and who, by his own count, had suffered at least 10 mental breakdowns, had been ill for months, said his agent, Norma Farnes. Mr. Milligan's death was attributed to liver failure.

Mr. Milligan was described by a critic as "the zaniest, wackiest comic genius of his generation." Few who had seen him pick up a baguette sandwich and use it to "play" piccolo to a George Gershwin tune would disagree.

Born Terrance Alan Milligan, he gained fame as a member of the British comedy team "the Goons" alongside Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe. He was the last of the quartet to die, outliving Mr. Secombe by a few months.

In 1994, Mr. Milligan received a British comedy award for lifetime achievement and it was at that ceremony he made his most famous or perhaps, notorious remark. When a letter from Prince Charles lauding his performances was read out to a rather stuffy audience and to millions of viewers watching on television Mr. Milligan simply declared: "Groveling little [expletive]."

But the Prince of Wales was and remained perhaps the comic's No. 1 fan, and last year arranged for the comedian to receive an honorary knighthood.

When Prince Charles was notified of Mr. Milligan's death, the prince was "deeply saddened by the news. He knew Spike Milligan well over many years and had great affection for him," a spokesman told United Press International.

Mr. Milligan was a master of the outrageous, particularly in pursuit of a cause. Once, in a protest against force-feeding of livestock, he was thrown out of Harrod's department store for trying to stuff 28 pounds of spaghetti down the throat of the food hall manager.

"I told him it might give him some idea of how a goose feels being force-fed maize to make pate de fois gras," the comedian said at the time.

He also campaigned against vivisection, abortion and smoking and against needless noise. On the front door of his house in Rye, England, he tacked up a sign reading: "This door can be closed without slamming it. Try it and see how clever you are."

Mr. Milligan was an accomplished poet and had written several volumes of memoirs of World War II, when he suffered the shell shock that was believed to have contributed to his later health problems. Friends said he played a better-than-average cornet and trumpet, with heavy emphasis on the styles of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke.

It was in the comedy of the often bizarre and even weird, however, that Mr. Milligan tickled a nation's fancy. As one observer put it, he had "a unique and audacious sense of fun that could transform a mundane situation into madcap absurdity."

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