July 3, 2019: Arte Johnson, ‘Laugh-In’ Comic, Dies at 90

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Arte Johnson, as Wolfgang, the German Soldier in ‘Laugh-In’

Arte Johnson, the comic actor who was a regular on the sketch comedy TV series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, died July 3, 2019, in Los Angeles. Johnson, best known for the catch phrase “Verrry interesting” and as a dirty old man who frequently propositioned co-star Ruth Buzzi’s spinster character, was 90 and had been ill with cancer for several years.

Laugh-In, as the series was known, was an instant hit on NBC when it first aired as a special on September 9, 1967. NBC fast-tracked a series, which debuted mid-season during the 1967-1968 television season. Its first of 14 season one episodes ran on January 22, 1968 and immediately became a “water cooler” show that people talked about the next day at work or school. By season two, it was the #1 prime time series in America, and remained at the top for season three.

Johnson had numerous recurring roles on the series, most notably as a German soldier named Wolfgang. The character would often appear, seemingly out of nowhere, with a close up, and utter the phrase “Verrry interesting,” often adding an extra “… but shtupid.” He earned multiple Emmy Awards for his work on the program.

Other prominent cast members in the series included Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Richard Dawson, Alan Sues, and Jo Anne Worley.

By season four, the ratings reflected the program’s failure to evolve and it fell to #13 for the year. It lasted two more seasons.

Johnson was born January 20, 1929, in Benton Harbor, Mich. In his mid-20s, he appeared off-Broadway and in several TV sitcoms. Guest parts in numerous prominent television series followed including McHale’s NavyThe Andy Griffith Show and Bewitched.

Once Laugh-In ended, he appeared on dozens of other television series, including such favorites as Murder, She Wrote and Night Court. Johnson retired from acting in 2006.

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