Voice of Aflac duck Gilbert Gottfried apologizes for insensitive tweets about Japan

Actor and comedian Gilbert Gottfried, ousted Monday as the voice of the Aflac duck, issued an apology Tuesday afternoon for his recent Twitter postings making fun of the disaster in Japan.

“I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families,” Gottfried said in two tweets that were also posted on his official website.

The comic, known for his loud and often foul-mouthed humor, was fired by Columbus-based Aflac after his insensitive rants starting Friday after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake slammed the Asian nation. The tweets included:

“What does every Japanese person have in their apartment? Flood lights.”

“Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”

“My Japanese doctor advised me to stay healthy I need 50 million gallons of water a day.”

The quake occurred offshore and generated a huge tsunami that swept the coast of northern Japan, wiping out villages and potentially killing thousands of people. Authorities have projected the death toll there could top 10,000, while explosions at nuclear plants on the island nation have caused extreme anxiety over radioactive fallout and its effects on the population.

Aflac, which used Gottfried as the quacking voice of its duck-based advertising campaign since 2000, fired him Monday through its advertising agency. The comedian’s high-pitched “Aflaaaaac” squawk appeared in 52 commercials, all of which have been shelved with plans to replace his voice with someone else’s.

“Gilbert’s recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac,” said Michael Zuna, the company’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “Aflac Japan -- and, by extension, Japan itself -- is part of the Aflac family, and there is no place for anything but compassion and concern during these difficult times.”

The supplemental life and health insurer has donated $1.2 million to the International Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan. Its employees in the United States and Japan also are working to raise money and help in other ways, the company said Monday. It employs nearly 4,000 in Columbus and about 5,000 in Japan.

Aflac, which does 70 percent of its business in Japan, insuring one in four people there, on Monday said it does not expect the catastrophe to have a major impact on its financials. The firm posted total revenue of $20.7 billion in 2010.

But investors Tuesday were apparently spooked by continuing developments in Japan, with the human toll climbing and teams struggling to keep the nuclear plant damage from spiraling out of control.

Aflac shares (Ticker: AFL), fell more than 10 percent out of the gate amid an overall down stock market, eventually recovering a chunk of that to close down $3.01 per share, or 5.5 percent, at $50.89. The company’s stock is down from a March 1 high of $59.54 per share.