COLUMBUS, Ga. — Aflac Inc. said Monday it has fired Gilbert Gottfried, the abrasive voice of the insurer's quacking duck in the U.S., after the comedian posted a string of mocking jokes about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on Twitter over the weekend.
The tasteless tweets are particularly problematic for Aflac because it does 75 percent of its business in Japan. One in four homes in Japan buys health insurance from Aflac. The insurer's CEO, Daniel Amos, flew to Japan on Sunday to show support for the company's employees and agents.
Aflac said in a statement Monday that Gottfried's jokes do not represent the feelings of the company, which previously announced it would donate 100 million yen ($1.2 million) to the International Red Cross to help with disaster assistance.
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"There is no place for anything but compassion and concern during these difficult times," Chief Marketing Officer Michael Zuna said.
The tweets in question were removed from Gottfried's Twitter feed Monday after Aflac announced it would stop working with the comedian.
Disaster at a glance
A massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake — fifth largest since 1900 — struck at 2:46 p.m. local time Friday (12:46 a.m. ET), centered approximately 100 miles east of Sendai city on Japan’s main island, Honshu.
The quake generated a tsunami of at least 23 feet that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland in Japan. Smaller swells struck other Pacific Rim countries and even the United States, causing serious but far less extensive damage.
The death toll from last week's earthquake and tsunami jumped Tuesday as police confirmed the number killed had topped 2,400. Officials have said previously that at least 10,000 people may have died in Miyagi province alone.
The fuel rods at three nuclear reactors at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are believed to be in various stages of melting; authorities have ordered the evacuation of a 19-mile radius around the plant.
Transportation and communications systems were largely paralyzed and large swaths of the country remain without power; the Tokyo Electric Power Co. is imposing rolling blackouts in areas that do have power to ensure it can meet demand. Some commodities, including gas, are scarce.
Gottfried has voiced the duck in numerous Aflac commercials since 2000. His career includes a run as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" and a role as the voice of the parrot in Disney's "Aladdin." He has also recorded a 50-minute show of dirty jokes.
The insurer said it will start a casting search for his replacement. The company also noted that Gottfried is not the voice of the duck in Japan. Aflac's mascot has a softer, sweeter voice in Japanese commercials.
Aflac is gearing up for an influx of claims in the wake of the disaster, though it expects only a minimal financial impact to total results. The company, which has been doing business in Japan since 1974, said less than 5 percent of Aflac Japan's new sales and in-force premiums come from the hard-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures there.