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Laugh-In’s Dick Martin Dies at Age 86

Dick Martin, co-host of the groundbreaking TV show Laugh-In, has died at age 86.

The cause was respiratory failure, says The New York Times.

Martin and his partner Dan Rowan began working up their nightclub act in the 1950s. (Rowan had the moustache. “Rowan the sophisticate, Martin the laid-back lunk,” is how the Times describes their shtick.) Eventually they made their way onto local TV, The Tonight Show, and finally they got their own show with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1968.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications has a good introduction to the show. (“In an age of ‘sit-ins,’ ‘love-ins’ and ‘teach-ins,’ NBC was proposing a ‘laugh-in’ which somehow bridged generational gaps.”) The MBC’s cast list for the show includes soon-to-be-famous names like Goldie Hawn and Richard Dawson as well as not-so-famous names like Moosie Drier and Pigmeat Markham. “You bet your sweet bippy,” Martin’s catch-phrase, captured the nonsensical tone of the whole affair.

Laugh-In ended in 1973, and Dan Rowan died in 1987. Martin kept his hand in as an actor and director, mostly on TV sitcoms like Newhart. He also made game-show hay as a friendly wiseacre on shows like Match Game, Celebrity Sweepstakes and Password Plus.

A few odd Laugh-In sidelights:

Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels got his start as a writer on Laugh-In.

-A movie loosely based on the show, The Maltese Bippy, was released in 1969. ( has a few not-too-favorable reviews. “Unless you’ve got a nostalgic urge to see Rowan & Martin floundering on the big screen, this pic is a dumb, bumpy road.”)

Richard Nixon said “Sock it to me!” on the show while running for president in 1968. But his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, actually turned down the chance to say “I’ll sock it to you, Dick” in return. (“Humphrey said that not doing it may have cost him the election,” according to this 2004 New Yorker article.)

Courtesy of YouTube, here’s a little taste of Laugh-In, with Rowan and Martin aiding and abetting the action. Happy trails to you, Mr. Martin, wherever you are.

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