One of the many unusual things about Pip Freedman was that he was the first black newsreader on radio - and he wasn't even black.

He died peacefully at the Kingsbury Hospital in the early hours of Monday morning at the age of 77, after suffering a blood clot in his leg.

The South African comic icon became a household name in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when he presented his comedy shows on the old Springbok Radio on Saturdays. Freedman, born Philip Maurice Freedman, donned the masks of Dennis, Happy Harry (Singh), newsreader Philemon, and other colourful characters on his radio show.

The Swellendam-born Freedman, who started his career at the Starlight Theatre in Seapoint, was brought into the SABC by Cecile Whiteman to replace Gabriel Bauman in his Snoektown Calling show in the 1950s.

The first character he played was Cape coloured. He built a solid fan base throughout SA; especially in areas where black voices were not heard on Springbok Radio.

Freedman had a healthy respect for his characters and always stressed his humour was situational and empathetic, rather than coarse and disrespectful.

Active till the very end, Freedman had a stand-up comedy gig on SABC3's Comedy Showcase just last year and also came to Durban where he performed for the first time in decades.

A few weeks ago Freedman called the Cape Argus and spoke excitedly about the first play he was writing for the stage for a new generation of comic actors; scheduled for the Olympia Bakery towards the end of this year.

His wife, Pat, a nuclear medicine radiographer, said:"He was joking till the end. He really was. He joked with the ambulancemen and with the nurses. He just loved to make people laugh."

Pat, a fan of his for years, was a dancer and met him at a Six Day War fundraiser in Israel in Wilderness in 1967.

Three years later they started dating and were married for 30 years.

"I was a great fan of his long before I met him. I always thought he was such a talented performer.

"His timing as a dancer was impeccable (Freedman performed the origins of a dance piece as part of his comic act) as was his tango. I always thought to myself 'God I wish I could do that'," said Pat, 18 years his junior.

She said her husband had performed in the US and the UK during his long career, and was actively involved in charity work locally.

He had, she said, been overjoyed to see his son, Jonathon, from the UK and daughter Samantha Sacks, based in

Philadelphia, last week. Freedman also had two children from a previous marriage, Jeremy, based in Cape Town, and Gayle, based in England.

Freedman's last major performance was in November. In December he had a pacemaker fitted and in January he was the master of ceremonies at Samantha's Kirstenbosch wedding.

"Samantha said all her friends had had Pip Freedman as the MC at their weddings, so why shouldn't she," said Pat.

A memorial service for Freedman was due to be held at the Temple Israel in Greenpoint this week.