One star was painfully absent from this year’s Still Laugh-In tribute on Netflix, and that’s because Arte Johnson was in too much pain and sickness to attend.
Johnson died today. He was 90. He had previously beaten back non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but a few years ago came down with bladder and prostate cancer.
Born Jan. 20, 1929, Johnson got his first major performing experience while in college at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His show business career began in New York City in the mid-1950s, first onstage, and then with some success in TV sitcoms with small parts on several shows into the early 1960s. Here he was in a sketch on Jack Benny’s show showing him up.
But it was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In that made him a household name.
Johnson had two breakout characters during the variety show’s run on NBC from 1968 to 1973.
He launched a catchphrase I still use from time to time: “Verrrrry interesting.” Or as I sometimes said it: “Interestink.” That came from his smoking old and out-of-it German soldier who hid in the bushes, still thinking the war was afoot.
Johnson also starred in a recurring sketch as an old man named Tyrone F. Horneigh too horny for his own good, as he’d proposition the same older lady (Ruth Buzzi as Gladys) on a park bench, only to get walloped with her purse.
That led to many memorable guest-starring turns, on shows including I Dream of Jeannie, The Partridge Family, Fantasy Island, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The A-Team. On the big screen, Johnson joined the hijinks of Cannonball Run II, and played sidekick to George Hamilton’s Dracula in Love at First Bite.
He will be missed.