R.I.P. Arte Johnson (1929-2019)

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.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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