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Len Goodman, "Dancing With the Stars" judge, dies at 78

Len Goodman, of "Dancing with the Stars," dies at 78
Len Goodman, of "Dancing with the Stars," dies at 78 00:20

Len Goodman, a long-serving judge on "Dancing with the Stars" and "Strictly Come Dancing" who helped revive interest in ballroom dancing on both sides of the Atlantic, has died, his agent said Monday. He was 78.

Agent Jackie Gill said Goodman "passed away peacefully" on Saturday night. He had been diagnosed with bone cancer.

A former professional ballroom dancer and British champion, Goodman was head judge on "Strictly Come Dancing" for 12 years from its launch on the BBC in 2004. The dance competition, which pairs celebrities with professional dance partners, was a surprise hit and has become one of the network's most popular shows.

Len Goodman meets fans and signs copies of his book "Lost London: A Personal Journey" at Waterstones Bluewater on Oct. 10, 2013, in Greenhithe, England. Simon Burchell/Getty Images

Goodman's pithy observations, delivered in a Cockney accent, endeared him to viewers. "You floated across that floor like butter on a crumpet," he remarked after one foxtrot. He praised a salsa-dancing couple as "like two sizzling sausages on a barbecue."

Goodman was head judge on the U.S. version of the show, ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," for 15 years until his retirement in November. For several years he judged the British and American shows simultaneously each autumn, criss-crossing the Atlantic weekly.

Fellow judge Bruno Tonioli tweeted after Goodman's death that "there will never be anyone like you."

Buckingham Palace said Camilla, the queen consort, was "saddened to hear" of Goodman's death. The wife of King Charles III is a fan of "Strictly," and danced with Goodman at a 2019 event celebrating the British Dance Council.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman said Goodman was "a great entertainer" who would be "missed by many."

British broadcaster Esther Rantzen said Goodman had been "astonished and delighted" by his late-life fame.

"One of the reasons he succeeded so well in the States is that he was quintessentially British," she said. "He was firm but fair, funny but a gentleman and I hope the nation will adopt his favorite expostulation of 'pickle me walnuts.'"

Goodman also presented BBC radio programs and made TV documentaries, including a 2012 program about the sinking of the Titanic. As a young man, Goodman had worked as a shipyard welder for the company that built the doomed ship.

BBC director-general Tim Davie said Goodman was "a wonderful, warm entertainer who was adored by millions. He appealed to all ages and felt like a member of everyone's family. Len was at the very heart of Strictly's success. He will be hugely missed by the public and his many friends and family."

Goodman was also a recipient of the Carl Alan Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to dance, and owned the Goodman Academy dance school in southern England.

His retirement announcement in November sparked praise from his fellow judges with host Tyra Banks calling him a "living legend."  Many of the professional dancers on the show, including co-judge Derek Hough, had their dancing judged by Goodman when they were kids, Banks said. 

"You've inspired generations of dancers around the entire globe through your passion and through your expertise and through laser-focused eye," Banks said. "And they are going to carry on that commitment to excellence forever." 

Professional dancer Cheryl Burke, who is also on the show, thanked Goodman after his retirement for "personally inspiring me to always stick to authentic ballroom dancing." 

"You have been a huge part of the reason why ballroom dancing has continued to entertain millions of people at home who gather around their TV screens every week," she wrote. "Thank you for changing my life and for bringing joy to millions of people who have been watching us throughout the years."  

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