Stand-up comedy—let alone sit-down pianism—will never again see a performer like Borge, who was 91 when he died peacefully Dec. 23 at his 4.5-acre Greenwich, Conn., estate. The so-called Great Dane was the cutup of the keyboard, an elegant stork of a man who could enchant an audience with a Beethoven sonata, then break them up by stumbling into the keyboard with his backside ("I play much better by ear, I can assure you"). Even after being honored at the Kennedy Center in 1999, he wore a clown nose at the reception. "But he was not just a comic " says Danish Royal Orchestra director Michael Schon-wandt. "He moved classical music into everyone's hearts."
The son of a violist, Borge was a child piano prodigy in Copenhagen but became a true star in the '30s when he realized he enjoyed making quips as much as music. After the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940, the Jewish Borge headed to America, where he cemented his fame in 1953 with Broadway's longest running one-man show (849 performances). What with records, concerts and countless TV appearances, his fans reportedly included Elizabeth II and, to Borge's baffle ment, Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Although Borge had concert gigs booked into 2001, melody left his life in September: His second wife, Sanna (his manager before they wed in 1953), died after a series of strokes. "He missed her terribly," says Frederikke, one of five children. "We feel as though he went to spend Christmas with her."