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The BBC's Arts Correspondent, Nick Higham
"Beneath the clowning was a man of great determination"
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Sunday, 24 December, 2000, 00:22 GMT
Comedian Victor Borge dies
Victor Borge
Victor Borge: "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people"
The Danish-born pianist and comedian Victor Borge, whose whimsical treatment of classical music earned him the nickname "Clown Prince of Denmark, " has died aged 91.

Mr Borge died at his Connecticut home in his sleep, having just returned to the US from Copenhagen, the city of his birth.

Borge sharing a joke with Sean Connery
Borge sharing a joke with Sean Connery in 1999

He often gave command performances for kings, queens and presidents. He was knighted by the kings of Norway, Denmark and Sweden and was twice honoured by the US Congress.

His repertoire included pranks such as falling off his piano stool, playing music upside down and using "phonetic punctuation" - funny sounds interspersed in his monologues.

US celebrity

He became one of the highest paid entertainers in the United States and kept up a busy career into his 80s. His video, The Best of Victor Borge, sold some three million copies.

With me, the three Bs are: Bach, Beethoven and Boats!

Victor Borge

Borge also established a reputation as a serious performer of classical works. He became a much sought-after conductor, appearing with leading symphony orchestras.

He was born Borge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, the youngest in a family of five boys. His father was a violinist in the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra.

His mother gave piano lessons and introduced him to the piano at the age of three. He made his concert debut in Copenhagen at the age of eight, and later studied at the Copenhagen Music Conservatory, as well as in Vienna and Berlin.

His road to stardom began with a performance at an annual revue organised by the Chamber of Commerce in Copenhagen.

Anti-Nazi jokes

Borge made Adolf Hitler a butt of his jokes. Fortunately, when the Germans invaded Denmark in April 1940, he happened to be performing in Stockholm and stayed there.

Later that year he travelled to the United States with his American-born wife. Borge arrived almost penniless and unable to speak English.

For the next year he spent much of his time at the cinema, listening intently to the dialogue to teach himself English.

When an opera star sings her head off, she usually improves her appearance

Victor Borge
After entertaining guests at a private party he was invited to appear on the Bing Crosby radio show - and remained on it for 56 weeks.

He went on to do many radio shows of his own, then moved on to television and the theatre.

In 1953 he hired a theatre in Seattle, Washington, for a year's engagement, and the performance was packed out every night.

Bright lights of Broadway

After a triumphant tour of American cities, he took his one-man show to Broadway, where his Comedy in Music chalked up 849 performances - the longest solo run in Broadway history.

Borge, who had two children by his first wife, married his second wife, Sarabel, in 1953. They had three children and later had family homes Connecticut and the Virgin Islands.

Whenever his schedule and the weather permitted, Borge liked to indulge his passion for sailing. As he put it: "With me, the three Bs are: Bach, Beethoven and Boats!"

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24 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Victor Borge: The Great Dane
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