“Laugh-In” star Arte Johnson has died, his family confirmed to Fox News on Wednesday. He was 90.
“On behalf of Gisela Johnson and the Johnson family, we are informing you that Emmy-winning comedic actor Arte Johnson has passed at 1:45 a.m., July 3, 2019,” a rep for the family shared in a written statement. “There are no services planned. His ashes will be taken to his home away from home in HI, where a private ceremony will be held.”
The cause of Johnson’s death was heart failure.
Johnson famously made his mark on “Laugh-In” as Wolfgang, the German soldier who insisted World War II was still going on. The catchphrase of his character, “Very interesting,” became iconic for the hit series, which aired from 1968 until 1973. Johnson won one Emmy for the series and was nominated two more times.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson got the idea for Wolfgang while watching Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan battle the Nazis in the 1942 film “Desperate Journey.”
Johnson, who was born in Benton Harbor, Mich., attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he worked at the campus radio station and the UI Theater Guild with Coslough “Cos” Johnson, his brother, and graduated in 1949.
Johnson originally sought employment in Chicago advertising agencies but was unsuccessful. He then left for New York City to work for Viking Press. In early 1954, he started performing at local nightclubs when he was cast in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” onstage. He would go on to appear in “The Twilight Zone” for the 1961 episode “The Whole Truth” as a car salesman who punches a used car lot owner.
Johnson would go on to appear in numerous hit TV shows during the ‘60s and ‘70s, including “Bewitched,” “Lost in Space” and “The Partridge Family.” He appeared in one of the final episodes of “The Donna Reed Show” in 1966.
But Johnson is best known for his work on “Laugh-In” where he played various beloved characters, including dirty old man Tyrone F. Horneig,h who made off-color remarks to Ruth Buzzi’s spinster character, Gladys Ormphby. She would often swat him with her oversize purse.
The pair reprised their characters in the 1977 animated series “Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.”
Johnson later admitted he left “Laugh-In” after four seasons because the demanding workload didn’t leave him time to do much else. The Hollywood Reporter noted he “had a repertoire of more than 60 comic characters.”
Johnson would find more fame in game shows, making appearances on “The Match Game,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Gong Show.” He also guest-starred on “Murder She Wrote,” “Night Court” and “General Hospital.”
In addition, Johnson took on voice work for cartoons, including “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo,” “DuckTales” and “Animaniacs,” along with narrating numerous audiobooks. He maintained a thriving career on television, with his last role voicing Virman Vundabar in 2005’s “Justice League Unlimited.” He retired from acting in 2006.
A non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, having been diagnosed and successfully treated in 1997, Johnson had battled bladder and prostate cancer for the last three years. He lived in Southern California with his wife, Gisela.
He is survived by Gisela, his wife of 51 years, and his brother.