LOS ANGELES - Dick Martin, 86, 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 catchphrases as "Sock it to me!," died Saturday night in Santa Monica, Calif.
Mr. Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, succumbed to respiratory complications at a hospital, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.
"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," Greenberg said.
Mr. 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.
, 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 included Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and announcer Gary Owens.
Presiding over it all were Rowan and Mr. Martin, veteran nightclub comics whose stand-up banter put their own distinct spin on the show.
Like all straight men, Rowan provided the voice of reason, striving to correct his partner's absurdities. Mr. Martin, meanwhile, was full of bogus, often risque theories about life, which he appeared to hold with unwavering certainty.
Against this backdrop, audiences were taken from scene to scene by quick, sometimes psychedelic-looking visual cuts, where they might see Hawn, Worley or other women dancing in bathing suits, with political slogans, or sometimes just nonsense, painted on their bodies.
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 Wagnalls" - 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
?" His opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was offered equal time but declined because his handlers thought it would appear undignified.
Rowan and Mr. Martin landed the show just as their comedy partnership was approaching its zenith and the nation's counterculture was expanding into the mainstream.
The novelty of
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 Mr. Martin capitalized on their fame with a series of high-paid engagements around the country. They parted amicably in 1977.
Rowan, a sailing enthusiast, spent his last years touring the canals of Europe on a houseboat. He died in 1987.
Mr. Martin moved on to 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."
Soon he was one of the industry's busiest TV directors, working on numerous episodes of
as well as such shows as
In the Heat of the Night
Archie Bunker's Place
Born into a middle-class family in Battle Creek, Mich., Mr. Martin had worked in a Ford auto assembly plant after high school.
After an early failed marriage, he was for years a confirmed bachelor. He finally settled down in middle age, marrying Dolly Read, a former bunny at the Playboy Club in London. Survivors include his wife and two sons, actor Richard Martin and Cary Martin.