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Len Goodman, stalwart judge on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ dies at 78

ByTeam BB

Apr 25, 2023


Len Goodman, a British ballroom dancer known to millions of American television viewers as the cockney-accented judge on “Dancing With the Stars,” the popular reality competition show, died April 22 at a hospice center in Kent, England. He was 78.

The cause was bone cancer, said his agent, Jackie Gill.

Mr. Goodman, who began his professional life as a shipyard welder in the docks of London, jokingly described himself as a “star that never twinkled.”

He took up ballroom dancing at 19 after friends persuaded him to tag along with them to dance studios, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, by uttering “the magic words”: “There’s loads of girls — and no guys.”

Mr. Goodman became a standout in exhibition dancing, winning British and world championships. He soared to fame in Britain in 2004 when he became a judge on the BBC show “Strictly Come Dancing,” a ratings powerhouse that was spun off the following year on ABC as “Dancing With the Stars.”

Like the BBC original, “Dancing With the Stars” features celebrities — if not always of A-list fame, then solidly or at least tentatively in the B-list category — who were paired with professional dance partners in performances before an audience and a judging panel.

Mr. Goodman became a mainstay of both programs, judging on “Strictly Come Dancing” through 2016 and on “Dancing With the Stars” until he stepped down last November. For years he maintained a residence in Los Angeles, jetting back and forth across the Atlantic.

Mr. Goodman dispensed one-liners that made him an audience favorite from his earliest days on BBC. “You floated across that floor like butter on a crumpet,” he told British singer Frankie Bridge of her finely rendered fox trot on “Strictly Come Dancing.”

A less impressive performance by former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant, Mr. Goodman opined, was “more ha-ha-ha than cha-cha-cha.”

By bringing his witticisms and Britishisms to the United States, observed Robert Thompson, a scholar of popular culture, Mr. Goodman “constantly served up an idea of what Americans still think of as … British.”

“He was folksy,” said Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University. “But he also had that certain sense of classiness that comes with even a non-queen’s English British dialect.”

Celebrities who have appeared over the years on “Dancing With the Stars” included soap opera actress Kelly Monaco, Joey McIntyre of the boy band “New Kids on the Block,” boxing champion Evander Holyfield, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, chef Paula Deen, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and, in an infamous run, Sean Spicer, once the White House press secretary for President Donald Trump.

For many seasons, the “Dancing With the Stars” judging panel consisted of Mr. Goodman and two colleagues, dancer-choreographers Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. But “there was a sense,” said Thompson, that Mr. Goodman “was kind of its anchor.”

He was direct in his judgments but never cruel, often offering an encouraging word and acknowledging that the celebrity contestants, whatever the quality of their performance, were not professional dancers.

“I admire them so much for their pluck and their guts,” he told the New York Times in 2005. “Imagine if you had someone who’s never played golf. And you said to him, ‘You’ve got six weeks to learn the game and you’re going to play with Tiger Woods and you’re going to have 15 million people watching it. Live.’ The thought of it is unimaginable.”

Leonard Gordon Goodman was born on April 25, 1944, and spent his early years in Kent and the East End of London.

He worked at his grandfather’s produce stand before finding a job at the shipbuilding firm Harland and Wolff. He left that job to pursue professional dancing and later ran the Goodman Dance Academy in Dartford, England.

In addition to serving as a judge on the two dance TV programs, Mr. Goodman was a presenter for BBC radio programs and made a 2012 PBS documentary about the sinking in 1912 of the Titanic ocean liner, which had been built by Harland and Wolff.

Mr. Goodman’s marriage to dancer Cherry Kingston ended in divorce.

He was married in 2012 to Sue Barrett. Besides his wife, of Kent, survivors include a son from another relationship, James Goodman, also of Kent; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Goodman was the author of books including the memoir “Better Late Than Never: From Barrow Boy to Ballroom” (2008), written with Richard Havers.

He observed, in the later decades of his life, a considerable rise in the popularity of ballroom dancing. It was in large part the result of his television ambassadorship.

“If Arthur Murray brought ballroom dancing to early television,” Thompson said, referring to the ballroom dancer and founder of the namesake dance studio chain, “I think Len Goodman was the one who brought it to more contemporary television.”



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