May 27, 2008 / 12:18 AM / 10 years ago

Comic Dick Martin, star of "Laugh-In," dies at 86

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comic Dick Martin, who starred with Dan Rowan in the hit 1960s television variety show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” helping to launch the Hollywood careers of stars such as Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, has died. He was 86.

Martin, who became a top television director after he and Rowan parted amicably in the 1970s, died of respiratory complications on Saturday at a hospital in Santa Monica, California, near his home, spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

Greenberg said Martin, who had suffered respiratory problems for years, died at around 6 p.m. local time while surrounded by members of his family.

Rowan and Martin became a comedy team in 1952 and spent the next decade working the nightclub circuit, both in the United States and overseas and making occasional guest appearances on television, before getting their own show.

“Laugh-In” debuted on NBC in 1968 as a mid-season offering and became an instant sensation, quickly becoming one of television’s top-rated shows and staying popular until it went off the air five years later.

Hawn first gained fame as a regular member of the show and went on to become an Oscar-winning Hollywood actress.

Tomlin joined the cast in 1969 and it was there that she first introduced some of her best-known characters, including the wise-cracking telephone operator Ernestine and 5-year-old Edith Ann.

After Rowan retired for health reasons in the mid-1970s, Martin turned his talents to directing on such shows as “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Family Ties” and “In the Heat of the Night.”

Rowan died in 1987 of lymphatic cancer.

Greenberg said Martin, who was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on January 30, 1922, had requested that no funeral be held.

Editing by Philip Barbara

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