'Laugh-In' Actor Henry Gibson Dies

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MALIBU -- Veteran comic character actor Henry Gibson, whose career included the 1960's hit "Laugh-In," and more recently " King of the Hill," died Monday.

Gibson died at his home in Malibu after a brief battle with cancer. He was 73.

Gibson was born Henry Gibson Bateman in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He graduated from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and served in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer.

After his discharge, he developed an act in which he portrayed a Southern accented poet.

His stage name may have been a play on dramatist Henrik Ibsen, and he often pronounced his name as if it were "Ibsen", particularly when performing as "The Poet".

Gibson's breakthrough came in 1968 when he was cast as a member of the original ensemble of NBC's top-rated "Laugh-In," on which he performed for three seasons.

Each week, a giant flower in his hand, he recited a signature poem, introducing them with the catch phrase that became his signature: "A Poem, by Henry Gibson."

Gibson appeared in four films by Robert Altman: The Long Goodbye (starring Elliott Gould), Nashville (starring Ned Beatty and Keith Carradine), as well as A Perfect Couple and Health. He also appeared in The Incredible Shrinking Woman (starring Lily Tomlin). He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Nashville and won the National Society of Film Critics award for his role of country music singer Haven Hamilton.

Gibson spent three years as part of the Laugh-In television show's cast. He often played was "The Poet," reciting poems with "sharp satirical or political themes".

Gibson would emerge from behind a stage flat, wearing a Nehru jacket and 'hippie' beads and holding an outlandishly large artificial flower He would state the Title of poem -- by Henry Gibson", bow stiffly from the waist, recite his poem, and return behind the flat.

Gibson also regularly appeared in the "Cocktail Party" segments as a Catholic priest, sipping tea.

He would put the cup on the saucer, recite his one-liner in a grave and somber tone, then go back to sipping tea. He also made recurring appearances in the 1969-1974 anthology Love, American Style.

Gibson is remembered for his roles in two feature films. In the 1989 Tom Hanks/Joe Dante comedy, The 'Burbs, Gibson played the villain.

In 1980 he played the leader of the " Illinois Nazis" in the John Landis film The Blues Brothers. Most younger audiences associate him with this film in particular due to its popularity.

He made a brief appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia as an eccentric barfly. He also worked frequently as a voice actor in animation, most notably portraying Wilbur the pig in the popular children's movie Charlotte's Web (1973).

He also worked on the cartoon The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy as Lord Pain.

Gibson re-teamed with director Dante a few years later when Gremlins 2 was released in 1990. He performed a cameo as the office worker who is caught taking a smoking break on camera and fired by the sadistic boss. He later had a leading role in a Season 5 episode of Stargate SG-1 entitled "The Sentinel", as the character Marul.

Gibson's most recently roles were alongside Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the 2005 comedy hit Wedding Crashers, and as supporting character Judge Clark Brown on the TV show Boston Legal.

Gibson is survived by three sons -- Jon, a business affairs executive at Universal Pictures; Charles, a director and two-time Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor; and James, a screenwriter -- and grandchildren Matthew and Miranda.

Memorial services are pending. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Friends of the Malibu Public Library. 'Laugh-In' original Henry Gibson diesAlso appeared in 'Boston Legal,' four Robert Altman filmsBy Mike BarnesSept 16, 2009, 02:49 PM ETUpdated: Sept 16, 2009, 03:27 PM ETHenry Gibson, a wry comic character actor whose career included "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," "Nashville" and "Boston Legal," died Monday at his home in Malibu after a brief battle with cancer. He was 73.

Gibson's breakthrough came in 1968 when he was cast as a member of the original ensemble of NBC's top-rated "Laugh-In," on which he performed for three seasons. Each week, a giant flower in his hand, he recited a signature poem, introducing them with the catch phrase that became his signature: "A Poem, by Henry Gibson."

The poems proved so popular that they led to the release of two comedy albums, "The Alligator" and "The Grass Menagerie," as well as a book, "A Flower Child's Garden of Verses."

After "Laugh-In," he played the evil Dr. Verringer in "The Long Goodbye" (1973), the first of four films in which he appeared for director Robert Altman. Their second collaboration came in "Nashville" (1975), in which Gibson earned a Golden Globe nomination and a National Society of Film Critics supporting-actor award for his performance as unctuous country singer Haven Hamilton. He also wrote his character's songs.

In television, Gibson's recent work included a five-season stint as cantankerous Judge Clarence Brown on ABC's "Boston Legal" and providing the voice for sardonic, eye-patched newspaperman Bob Jenkins on Fox's animated series "King of the Hill."

Born James Bateman in Germantown, Pa., on Sept. 21, 1935, Gibson began acting professionally at age 8. After graduating from Catholic University, he served in France from 1957-60 as an intelligence officer with the Air Force, then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

Back in New York, the actor developed the comic persona of "Henry Gibson" (a pun on the name of playwright Henrik Ibsen), a humble, wide-eyed poet laureate from Fairhope, Ala. Appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "The Joey Bishop Show" led to him being flown out to Hollywood by Jerry Lewis to be cast in "The Nutty Professor" (1963).

Also that year, Gibson appeared in his Broadway debut opposite Walter Matthau and Ruth Gordon in Lillian Hellman's "My Mother, My Father and Me."

Other memorable film roles for Gibson included a turn as the voice of Wilbur the Pig in the animated "Charlotte's Web" (1973); as an Illinois Nazi pursuing John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in "The Blues Brothers" (1980); as a menacing neighbor opposite Tom Hanks in "The 'Burbs" (1989); as flamboyant barfly Thurston Howell in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" (1999); and as a befuddled priest in "Wedding Crashers" (2005).

In 2001, he returned to Broadway in the Encores! New York City Center production of Rogers & Hart's "A Connecticut Yankee."

Offscreen, Gibson was active as an environmentalist; he contributed opinion pieces and poetry to publications such as the Washington Post and donated proceeds from the sale of posters featuring his poetry to the then-fledgling Environmental Defense Fund.

Gibson is survived by three sons -- Jon, a business affairs executive at Universal Pictures; Charles, a director and two-time Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor; and James, a screenwriter -- and grandchildren Matthew and Miranda.

Memorial services are pending.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Friends of the Malibu Public Library.

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