Len Goodman, judge on Dancing With the Stars, Strictly Come Dancing, dead at 78

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 died peacefully. 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.

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.”

Late-life fame

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.

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 favourite expostulation of ‘pickle me walnuts.'”

A couple is shown on the dancefloor.
Goodman dances with Camilla, then-Duchess of Cornwall, at a charity event at Carisbrooke Hall in London on Sept. 5, 2019. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

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.

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