BEIRUT: Comedian Yassin Bakush, who earned the adoration of the Arab masses with his simple and touching impersonations, has joined thousands of his countrymen as a victim of the war in Syria at the age of 75.
A star of the golden age of Syrian television, Bakush, 75, was killed on Sunday when a shell hit his car in southern Damascus, according to activists who accused the army of firing the shot.
State television gave a similar account, but blamed the rebels for Bakush's death.
Since his death, the channel has broadcast classic clips of the beloved comic.
Videos distributed on the Internet showed the bloodied body of a man believed to be Bakush, along with images of his passport and identity card.
"The Syrian inferno devours comedy icon Yassino," Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar wrote on Monday, referring to the comic by his colloquial Syrian nickname.
"The war in Syria will not stop until they have killed what remains of the beauty in the memory of a people and a nation," said the pro-Syrian regime daily.
Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat wrote: "He who only knew how to smile... left Damascus despite himself after tasting death."
"Just as you made us laugh during your lifetime, your death made us cry," Tweeted Ali Hashem, a Beirut-based journalist.
Born in 1938, Bakush was famous across the Arab world for his roles in television serials, theatre productions and films, which poked fun at politics and society in Syria at a time when state censorship was stifling.
In the famous 1970s black-and-white television show "Sah al-Nom" (Hello), Bakush brought his audience to tears playing the role of Yassino, a naive hotel employee with a heart of gold, always willing to bend over backwards to bail out his colleague, played by fellow Syrian comedian Doreid Laham.
But while Laham was accused of defending the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Yassin never took a public stance on the conflict, although activists asserted that he was a supporter of the revolution that broke out in March 2011.
Though fighting intensified on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Bakush continued to live in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus.
A video showed his car several weeks ago driving through a rebel checkpoint in the camp, which has experienced regular shelling and fighting over the course of the nearly two-year conflict.
For millions across the Arab world, Bakush will be forever associated with his friendly character Yassino.
Lebanese French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour wrote Sunday night that "the Academy Awards celebrated the best actors of Hollywood and international cinema, while Syrians mourned the loss of a mythical figure of Arab comedy."