"Laugh-In" Star Dick Martin Dies

In this April 2, 2002 file photo, comedian Dick Martin laughs during a ceremony honoring him and his late comic partner Dan Rowan with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s died Saturday night May 24, 2008. He was 86. AP Photo/Nick Ut, FILE

Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," Greenberg said.

Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years.

He was surrounded by family and friends when he died just after 6 p.m., Greenberg said.

"Laugh-in," which debuted in January 1968, was unlike any comedy-variety show before it. Rather than relying on a series of tightly scripted song-and-dance segments, it offered up a steady, almost stream-of-consciousness run of non-sequitur jokes, political satire and madhouse antics from a cast of talented young actors and comedians that also included Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and announcer Gary Owens.

Presiding over it all were Rowan and Martin, the veteran nightclub comics whose standup banter put their own distinct spin on the show.

Like all straight men, Rowan provided the voice of reason, striving to correct his partner's absurdities. Martin, meanwhile, was full of bogus, often risque theories about life, which he appeared to hold with unwavering certainty.

2Against this backdrop, audiences were taken from scene to scene by quick, sometimes psychedelic-looking visual cuts, where they might see Hawn, Worley and other women dancing in bathing suits with political slogans (or just plain nonsense) painted on their bodies. Other times, Gibson, clutching a flower, would recite nonsensical poetry, or Johnson would impersonate a comical Nazi spy.

"Laugh-In" astounded audiences and critics alike. For two years the show topped the Nielsen ratings, and its catchphrases "Sock it to me," "You bet your sweet bippy" and "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's" - were recited across the country.

Several huge stars of the day made frequent guest appearances on the show, including Jack Benny, Flip Wilson, Johnny Carson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Stars such as John Wayne and Kirk Douglas were delighted to make brief appearances, and even Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, dropped in to shout a befuddled-sounding "Sock it to me?" His opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was offered equal time but declined because his handlers thought it would appear undignified.

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