TOKYO (AP) _ Shijaku Katsura, a popular performer of traditional ``rakugo'' comic monologues, has died, his office said today. He was 59.

Katsura died Monday of heart failure at a hospital in western Japan. He had been in a coma since last month, when he tried to hang himself in his home in Suita, 250 miles west of Tokyo.

Born Toru Maeda in Kobe, Katsura gained popularity with his lively and innovative performances in a western Japan dialect, though he also performed in English. He also was known for his humorous looks, characterized by his bald pate and broad smile.

``Laughing is a way to release stress,'' he once said.

After dropping out of the literature department at Kobe University, Katsura made his debut in 1962 under his previous stage name, Koyone. Using his English skills, Katsura developed his trademark ``rakugo,'' entertaining audiences in Europe, the United States and Australia since 1987.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.