Arte Johnson, a master of sketch comedy who won an Emmy for the hit series “Laugh-In,” died Wednesday of heart failure, according to multiple reports, citing his family.
He was 90.
Johnson died in Los Angeles, his family told The Hollywood Reporter.
The irreverent series became an unexpected hit for NBC, and Johnson was among its more gifted and versatile performers. His German soldier prompted the catch phrase “Very interesting,” and his dirty old man sketch, with Ruth Buzzi, was notorious for causing his co-stars to break out laughing. (In a recent “Laugh-In” tribute that played on Netflix, Johnson was shown in outtakes making guest Don Rickles laugh so hard that he pleaded with Johnson to “give me a break.”)
Johnson spent only four seasons on “Laugh-In” (winning an Emmy in 1969), and appeared in comic TV roles before and after the series, without approaching its success. Other credits included an episode of “The Twilight Zone” and co-starring as Dracula’s servant Renfield in the 1979 comedy “Love at First Bite,” starring George Hamilton.
“Laugh-In” producer George Schlatter said he looked for “funny and magic people” when casting the show, recalling in a 50th-anniversary interview with THR that Johnson was “selling suits” when he found him. The producer said Johnson first did the German soldier on TV during an appearance with Bob Hope, riffing on the comic’s famous USO tours by coming out and saying, “‘Every Christmas we waited for you.’ Hope didn’t know what to think of him.”
Born in Michigan, Johnson started his acting career on Broadway before moving to Los Angeles in the 1950s, proceeding to land parts on shows like “Bewitched” and “Make Room for Daddy.”
Johnson is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Gisela Johnson.