Henry Gibson, Actor and Comedian, Dies at 73

Henry Gibson, Actor and Comedian, Dies at 73


Actor and comedian Henry Gibson, who charmed audiences as the poet on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and as a cranky judge on Boston Legal, died in his home on Monday after a short battle with cancer.  He was 73.

Gibson, a Philadelphia native, in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and attended Saint Joseph's Preparatory School, where he was President of the Drama Club. Graduating from The catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he served in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer. After his discharge, he lanched full time into performing, developing an act in which he portrayed a Southern accented poet, "the poet." His stage, Henry Gibson, name was a witty play on dramatist Henrik Ibsen.

No stronger to performing, Gibson's career began at the age of seven. He appeared in many stage and Theater Productions. His career took off when he performed in the Jerry Lewis film "The Nutty Professor" (1963). Gibson also appeared on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," reading the poem "Keep A Goin'", which he turned into a song in the Robert Altman movie "Nashville" (1975), starring Ned Beatty and Keith Carradine. Gibson appeared in three other films directed by Altman: T"he Long Goodbye" (starring Elliott Gould), "A Perfect Couple" and "Health." He also appeared in "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" (starring Lily Tomlin). He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for "Nashville" and won the National Society of Film Critics award for his role of country music singer Haven Hamilton.

Gibson spent three years as part of the "Laugh-In" television show's cast. He often played "The Poet," reciting poems with "sharp satirical or political themes". Gibson would emerge from behind a stage flat, wearing a Nehru jacket and "hippie" beads and holding an outlandishly large artificial flower. He would state the "[Title of poem] - by Henry Gibson", bow stiffly from the waist, recite his poem, and return behind the flat. Gibson's routine was so memorable that John Wayne actually performed it once in his own inimitable style: "The Sky - by John Wayne. The Sky is blue/The Grass is green/Get off your butt/And join the Marines!," whereupon Wayne left the scene by smashing through the flat. Gibson also regularly appeared in the "Cocktail Party" segments as a Catholic priest, sipping tea. He would put the cup on the saucer, recite his one-liner in a grave and somber tone, then go back to sipping tea. He also made recurring appearances in the 1969-1974 anthology "Love, American Style."

In the 1989 Joe Dante comedy "The 'Burbs," starring Tom Hanks, Gibson played the villain. In 1980 he played the leader of the 'Illinois Nazis' in the John Landis film "The Blues Brothers." Most younger audiences associate him with this film in particular due to its popularity. He made a brief appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" as an eccentric barfly. He also worked frequently as a voice actor in animation, most notably portraying Wilbur the pig in the popular children's movie "Charlotte's Web" (1973). He also worked on the cartoon "The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy" as Lord Pain.

Gibson reunited with director Dante a few years later when "Gremlins 2" was released in 1990. He performed a cameo as the office worker who is caught taking a smoking break on camera and fired by the sadistic boss. He had a leading role in a Season 5 episode of Stargate SG-1 entitled "The Sentinel", as the character Marul.

Gibson's last roles were alongside Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the 2005 comedy hit "Wedding Crashers," and as supporting character Judge Clark Brown on the TV show "Boston Legal."

In April 1966, he married Lois Joan Geiger, with whom he had three sons: Jonathan David Gibson, Charles Alexander Gibson and James Gibson. She died in 2007.

On September 14, 2009, Gibson died of cancer in Malibu, California, a week before his 74th birthday.