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‘Laugh-In’ host Martin, 86, dies

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 catchphrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Mr. Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan 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," Mr. Greenberg said.

Mr. 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., Mr. 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 included Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and announcer Gary Owens.

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

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

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

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 H. Humphrey, was offered equal time but declined because his handlers thought it would appear undignified.

After the show folded in 1973, Mr. Rowan and Mr. Martin capitalized on their fame with a series of highly paid engagements across the country. They parted amicably in 1977. Mr. Martin moved onto the game-show circuit, but quickly tired of it. After he complained about the lack of challenges in his career, fellow comic Bob Newhart's agent suggested that he take up directing.

He would recall later that it was "like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool and being told to sink or swim." Soon he was one of the industry's busiest TV directors, working on numerous episodes of "Newhart" as well as such shows as "In the Heat of the Night," "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Family Ties."

Survivors include his second wife, Dolly, and two sons, actor Richard Martin and Cary Martin. At Mr. Martin's request, there will be no funeral, Mr. Greenberg said.