Dick Martin socked it to 'em

Comic was perfect fit for iconic 'Laugh-In'

Dick Martin, who died Saturday from respiratory complications in Santa Monica at age 86, will naturally always be remembered for what he did while partnering with Dan Rowan on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

Forty years after its 1968 premiere, it's difficult now to recall the degree to which the raucous and brazen comedy-variety hour shook the status quo during that tumultuous year in America's social history and during the four years that followed. But it was massive. And as the adorable dork to Rowan's sophisticated straight man, Martin was the effervescent straw that stirred the stream-of-consciousness melange.

Unlike Tom and Dick Smothers, Rowan and Martin lent no political sensibility to "Laugh-In." They were almost like a vaudeville warm-up act. It turned out to be the right move. Martin, in the guise of irrepressible oaf, embodied a certain restrained genius for which he rarely received proper credit.

The hosting pair were something of a slightly hipper Martin & Lewis, with Martin in this case embodying the wacky Lewis role and Rowan the suave, mock-perplexed voice of reason. They served as a reassuring counterpoint at a time of surreal unrest and turmoil.

Martin was working as a bartender when he met Rowan in 1952 and took him on as his comedy teammate. The pair worked clubs in New York, Las Vegas and Miami. But it wasn't until "Laugh-In" that they truly hit it big.

Martin would remain partners with Rowan for four years after "Laugh-In's" 1973 cancellation, doing high-paid gigs around the country until 1977, when they went their separate ways. During the past 30 years, Martin was a frequent game show panelist and even tried his hand at hosting a few before finding a niche as a director of episodic television.

"All of us at NBC Universal are saddened by the loss of Dick Martin," NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said. "His and Dan Rowan's "Laugh-In" had a huge influence on American culture and forever changed the look, sound and pace of television. No show had ever brought to the screen such frenetic energy and creativity, and Dick had a great deal to do with this. With Dick's passing, we've lost a giant in the history of television. Our hearts go out to his wife and family."