Arte Johnson, Emmy-winning star of the 60’s and 70’s comedy sketch show “Laugh-In, Dead at 90

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Arte Johnson, Emmy-winning star of the 60’s and 70’s comedy sketch show “Laugh-In,” died July 3 in Los Angeles of heart failure. He was 90.
Arte Johnson was born on January 20, 1929 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA as Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson. He was an actor and writer, known for Love at First Bite (1979), Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1967) and The President’s Analyst (1967). His best-remembered characters on Laugh-in were a German soldier with the catchphrase “Verrrry interesting…”, and an old man who habitually propositioned Ruth Buzzi’s spinster character.
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In 1972, Johnson guest-starred in an episode of The Partridge Family as Nicholas Minsky Pushkin in the episode, “My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage”. In 1973, Johnson guest-starred in an episode of the situation comedy A Touch of Grace. In 1974, he appeared in the first season of the Detroit-produced children’s show Hot Fudge. He also appeared, for one week, as a celebrity guest panelist on the game show Match Game. In the late 1970s, he was a semi-regular celebrity guest panelist on The Gong Show.

In 1976, he played the animated cartoon character “Misterjaw”, a blue, German-accented shark (with a bow tie and top hat), who liked to leap out of the water and shout “HEEGotcha!” or “Gotcha!” at unsuspecting folks on The Pink Panther Laugh-and-a-Half Hour-and-a-Half Show. He also voiced the character “Rhubarb” on The Houndcats. Also in 1976, he appeared as a guest on Canadian TV show Celebrity Cooks with host Bruno Gerussi and a clip from his episode was featured in the opening credits until the show ended in 1987.

In September 1977, Johnson appeared on an episode of the NBC daytime version of Wheel of Fortune as a substitute letter-turner, both to fill-in for an injured Susan Stafford, and to promote his short-lived NBC game show Knockout, which aired through early 1978. Instead of being introduced by the show’s announcer, he would start the show with a small monologue, then the announcer would introduce the day’s contestants. In 1979, he was cast as “Renfield,” the comic sidekick of George Hamilton’s Dracula in the surprise box office smash, Love At First Bite. The following year he appeared in the all-star television disaster movie Condominium.

In 1985, he voiced “Weerd” in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and played a disgruntled employee denied severance pay in an episode of Airwolf. He also voiced several characters, such as: Dr. Ludwig Von Strangebuck and Count Ray on two episodes of Ducktales, Devil Smurf on The Smurfs, Top Cat and Lou on Yo Yogi!, Newt on Animaniacs, and many other shows.

In 1987, Johnson guest-starred in the Murder, She Wrote episode, “No Laughing Murder.” Johnson’s character, Phil Rinker, is a guest at a wedding engagement party of the children of a legendary, but bitterly estranged, comedy team, Mack & Murray (played by Buddy Hackett & Steve Lawrence and based loosely on the genuinely legendary Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis split). After discovering that their on-going dispute is a result of the theft of a video deal’s residuals, Johnson’s character is murdered but the death is made to look like a suicide.

In 1990, Johnson appeared in an episode of Night Court. From 1991 to 1992 Johnson appeared in multiple episodes of General Hospital as Finian O’Toole. In 1996, he played the old laboratory head of a team of scientists working on a serum of youth in Second Chance. He has performed more than 80 audio-book readings, including Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan (2006) and Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey. In 2005, he appeared in the Justice League Unlimited episode “The Ties That Bind” as the voice of Virman Vundabar.

He retired from acting in 2006.

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