Rickie Layne, a ventriloquist who frequently appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with his Yiddish-accented dummy VELVEL, has died at the age of 81.

Layne passed away on 11 February (06) from heart failure, according to family members.

Singer Nat King Cole discovered Layne in 1955 at a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and convinced Sullivan to put him on his popular Sunday night variety show.

Layne made his debut on Sullivan's show in 1956 and returned several dozen times. His appearances on the show increased demand for him at clubs across the US.

In 2002, the International Ventriloquist Association gave him a lifetime achievement award.

Layne's wife of 56 years, LaRUE, died in 2002. He is survived by three daughters and four granddaughters.