COLUMBUS, Georgia - 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.
The company 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.
"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. On Saturday, Gottfried tweeted: "I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, 'They'll be another one floating by any minute now."
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 in 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.