LOS ANGELES - Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.
Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.
Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years.
"Laugh-in," which debuted in January 1968, was unlike any comedy-variety show before it. Rather than relying on a series of tightly scripted song-and-dance segments, it offered up a steady, almost stream-of-consciousness run of non-sequitur jokes, political satire and madhouse antics from a cast of talented young actors and comedians that also included Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and announcer Gary Owens.
Audiences were taken from scene to scene by quick, sometimes psychedelic-looking visual cuts, where they might see Hawn, Worley and other women dancing in bathing suits with political slogans, or sometimes just nonsense, painted on their bodies.
"Laugh-In" astounded audiences and critics alike. For two years, the show topped the Nielsen ratings, and its catchphrases- "Sock it to me," "You bet your sweet bippy" and "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's" - were recited across the country.
Stars such as John Wayne and Kirk Douglas were delighted to make brief appearances, and even Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, dropped in to shout a befuddled-sounding "Sock it to me!" His opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was offered equal time but declined because his handlers thought it would appear undignified.
The novelty of "Laugh-In" diminished with each season, however, and as major players such as Hawn and Tomlin moved on to bigger careers, interest in the series faded.
After the show folded in 1973, Rowan and Martin capitalized on their fame with a series of high-paid engagements around the country. They parted amicably in 1977.
"Dan has diabetes, and his doctor advised him to cool it," Martin said at the time.
Rowan, a sailing enthusiast, spent his last years touring the canals of Europe on a houseboat. He died in 1987.
Martin moved onto the game-show circuit, but quickly tired of it. After he complained about the lack of challenges in his career, fellow comic Bob Newhart's agent suggested he take up directing.
He was reluctant at first, but after observing on "The Bob Newhart Show," he decided to try. He would recall later that it was "like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool and being told to sink or swim."