The country is in mourning following news that the beloved icon was lost to COVID-19.

Ken Shimura, one of the country’s most famous celebrities, has passed away in Tokyo from pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. He was 70 years old.

The announcement of the veteran comedian’s passing was made today by Shimura’s agency, who previously revealed on 25 March that the star had tested positive for coronavirus. He first came down with fatigue and flu-like symptoms on 17 March, taking time off work to recuperate.

▼ News of the star’s coronavirus infection made front pages in Japan on 25 March.

On 19 March, Shimura was transported to a hospital in Tokyo’s Minato Ward after he developed a fever and experienced difficulty breathing. He was immediately hospitalised and diagnosed with severe pneumonia, and three days later, on 23 March, a test revealed he had been infected with the novel coronavirus.

On 24 March, Shimura was transferred to a hospital in Shinjuku, where he was equipped with a heart-lung machine. He had a shadow on his lungs on admission, and was temporarily intubated to secure the airway. However, despite best efforts by medical staff, Shimura passed away just after 11 p.m. on 29 March.

According to reports, the comedian had previously been hospitalised for pneumonia in August 2016. At the time he was a heavy smoker who smoked three packets of cigarettes a day, but his hospitalisation prompted him to quit smoking. In February this year, Shimura revealed that he had undergone stomach resection surgery, and although people questioned whether this was due to stomach cancer, his office later asserted that he had undergone endoscopic surgery in January to remove polyps found during a medical examination.

Reports are suggesting that Shimura’s underlying health concerns and recent surgery may have contributed to his death, which comes less than two weeks after he first showed symptoms of the virus.

Officials say contact tracing has now been completed, identifying those who had come into contact with the star recently. However, the route of transmission in Shimura’s case remains unknown.

The Tokyo-born Japanese comedian and television presenter, whose real name was Yasunori Shimura, first rose to fame in 1974, when he became a member of the hugely successful rock band and comedy group The Drifters. The group, which formed in 1964 and opened for the Beatles during their Japan tour in 1966, launched Shimura into the spotlight, where his slapstick comedy style became popular with audiences.

He went on to star in a number of comedy shows, creating some of his best known characters: “Bakatono” (“Idiot Feudal Lord”) and “Hen na Ojisan” (“Weird Old Man“).

▼ Bakatono

▼ Bakatono’s controversial “Meat Futon” skit.

Hen na Ojisan

News of Shimura’s passing has come as a huge shock to people around Japan, many of whom have grown up with his hugely popular Benny Hill-like characters.

 Fellow comedian Haruna Kondo was visibly upset on television today after hearing the news.

Shimura was due to appear in Yoji Yamada’s movie Kinema no Kamisama, with shooting set to begin next month for the film’s scheduled December release. He was also set to take part in the Olympic Torch relay as one of the torch runners.

 Shimura playing the shamisen in a recent TV commercial for Kirin.

At the time of his death, he was starring in a number of TV programs currently on air. Shimura’s agency says they intend to plan a farewell ceremony for the star, with details to follow.

Source: NHK via Hachima Kikou
Top image: Twitter/@a___96n

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