Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who died this week after a long illness, has a dozen game credits to his name for reprising his role as Iago, the cowardly parrot from Aladdin, in various Disney, Kingdom Hearts, and Lego games. Less well known is that he also gave voice to another far more infamous character, not in games but still on the PC: Clippy, the detested digital "assistant" that for several years was built into Microsoft Office.
Nobody liked Clippy. The googly-eyed paperclip, who would pop onto the screen to ask if you wanted help with even basic, mundane tasks, was rated among the 50 Worst Inventions by Time Magazine, earning a place alongside infamous implosions including New Coke, Agent Orange, the Ford Pinto, and hydrogen blimps. Clippy was so widely hated that when Microsoft finally decided to do away with it, it launched an entire ad campaign to celebrate.
The entire thing is bizarre. Microsoft isn't just shit-talking its own product, it's doing so with enthusiasm, and it really puts Clippy through the ringer too. First, he gets fired—but not before his boss tells him that he's "the most annoying thing in computer history" aside from Microsoft Bob. Bereft of purpose and a sense of self-worth, Clippy spirals.
Attempting to reclaim his place in the office hierarchy, Clippy goes undercover in the office, trying to subliminally convince everyone that the new Clippy-less Office XP sucks. The effort collapses when an IT guy manages to convince his manager that he's smarter than a house plant.
The wheels really come off in part three: A family dinner goes awry when Clippy's mom admits that she uses Office XP. Clippy skulks off to a sketchy, beer-soaked dive, where he gets trolled by the Duke.
The humiliation is complete. There is no redemption for Clippy, no happy ending—he's an irritant, a useless tit, everyone knows it, and they're all happy to see him go. And even when he does find some faint glimmer of purpose, the moment passes and he's cast aside—trapped in the purgatory of defunct technology, alone, unneeded, and forgotten.
Not entirely forgotten, though. Clippy did actually get a second turn in the spotlight, although it took nearly two decades to happen: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and in 2021 Microsoft said on Twitter that it would bring Clippy back as a Microsoft 365 emoji if the tweet got 20,000 likes. It ended up with more than 171,000 likes, and Microsoft kept its promise. Sadly, the emoji does not include the voice of Gilbert Gottfried screaming at us to "go hold together some pages of shut up!"
It's hard to imagine another actor so effectively—or so gamely—embodying a reviled office assistant. Gilbert Gottfried died on April 12 of heart failure resulting from myotonic dystrophy type II, according to a Rolling Stone obituary. He was 67.