Dudley Moore, 1935-2002

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Dudley Moore, the little, lovable star of more than 30 films who died Wednesday at 66, had a deformed left foot. He was born poor and grew up short. And if he hadn't felt so bad about himself, he might never have spent his life making the rest of us feel so good.

"I certainly did feel inferior. Because of class. Because of strength. Because of height," he told Newsday in 1980. "I guess if I'd been able to hit somebody in the nose, I wouldn't have been a comic."

Or a musician, which was how the young Moore got his start in the entertainment business — first as a chorister and organist in his parish church in Dagenham, near London, then to Oxford on a scholarship as an organist. In 1960 Moore was recruited for a comic accompanist's gig on the seminal London-to-Broadway four-man comedy review Beyond the Fringe, which starred the lanky British comic Peter Cook. Moore and Cook hit it off, and an odd-couple collaboration was born that put the little man on the path to Hollywood stardom.

The two broke through in 1966's "The Wrong Box" and 1967's "Bedazzled," the recently remade careful-what-you-wish-for comedy that starred Moore as the lovelorn nebbish and Cook as a mod-clad Satan. In 1969 Moore wrote and arranged the music for "30 is a Dangerous Age"; in 1972 Moore played the Dormouse — what else? — in a live-action "Alice in Wonderland" alongside established Brit stars Ralph Richardson, Michael Crawford and Peter Sellers.

Then Cook returned to England — and Moore went to Hollywood. In 1978, he got his foot in stardom's door — in perhaps 20 minutes of screen time — with his exuberant turn as Stanley Tibbets, the sublimely ridiculous swinger who thinks he's netted Goldie Hawn, in the Hawn-Chevy Chase comedy "Foul Play." In 1979, George Segal walked off Blake Edwards' production of "10," and Moore — who had met the director in a therapy group — got the part. The story was pure Moore — nebbishy musician has midlife crisis over statuesque young thing Bo Derek — and the movie became a pop-culture phenomenon.

Then Moore got drunk — his slurring, staggering, prat-falling millionaire in 1981's "Arthur" was the part of Moore's career, and also the peak. But if "Unfaithfully Yours," "Micki and Maude," "Best Defense," "Like Father, Like Son" and 1988's "Arthur 2: On the Rocks" were not the stuff of a lifetime achievement award, Moore continued to deliver what he did best — an always-funny mix of the underdog charm and comedic frustration of a little man trying to get his in a big dog's world.

Moore's life happily imitated his art — he was married four times (including Tuesday Weld) to four different women, all taller and more beautiful than he — but it was the physics of living that cut that life short. Moore spent his last years battling progressive supranuclear palsy, and set up the Dudley Moore Research Fund, dedicated to finding a cure, as well as the charity Music for All Seasons, which takes live music into hospitals, homes for the elderly and prisons. In his last public appearance, to receive a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from Prince Charles, Moore was confined to a wheelchair. In photos he was gray, gaunt, stark, with none of the irrepressible whimsy that marked his on-screen lives.

And then there is the photo from the Golden Globes just seven years ago — onstage hugging Cybil Shepherd. His head buried in her bosom. And a grin all over his face.