Arte Johnson, one of the most memorable stars of NBC’s classic sketch-comedy, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, has died at age 90. Johnson passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of heart failure following a three-year battle with cancer, his family told The Hollywood Reporter.
The self-proclaimed “second banana” was best known for playing the German soldier, Wolfgang, whose catchphrase was “Verry interesting.” But Johnson also played the lecherous old man, Tyrone F. Horneigh, who repeatedly delivered pick up lines to Ruth Buzzi’s spinster character, Gladys Ormphby, in the park. The duo’s encounters always ended with Johnson getting pelted with Buzzi’s purse.
After Arte Johnson’s death was announced, his longtime Laugh-In co-star Ruth Buzzi took to Twitter to remember their time together on the show and to pay tribute to her friend of more than 50 years. Buzzi also made a reference to a classic Laugh-In sketch she did with Johnson, which had his Tyrone Horneigh character asking her spinster character if she believed in the hereafter.
“Thank you for a wonderful half-century of friendship. I could not have shared the spotlight with a nicer guy. Rest in peace. And yes, Arte Johnson, I believe in the hereafter.”
Emmy-winning comic Arte Johnson from 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' dies at age 90 https://t.co/V5tCtCqf2b
— azcentral (@azcentral) July 3, 2019
Of course, Laugh-In fans recall that after asking Ruth Buzzi’s character if she believed in the hereafter, Arte Johnson’s Tyrone told her, “Then you know what I’m after!” The line remains one of the most iconic of the 1960s series.
Although Arte Johnson won an Emmy in 1969 for his work on Laugh-In and even headlined his own NBC special, Verry Interesting, he left the show after four seasons due to the demanding schedule that left little time for other projects. But his friendship with Buzzi remained.
In a 2017 interview with the Post-Journal, Ruth Buzzi revealed that it was Arte Johnson’s brother Coslough ‘Cos’ Johnson who came up with the idea to put Arte and her together as Tyrone and Gladys on the show. Buzzi also revealed that her sketch with Johnson was so popular that once at a Beverly Hills party, Elton John asked her to hit him with his purse, telling her it had been on his bucket list for years.
While Ruth Buzzi long retired her Gladys character—she once said Gladys is “waiting to go to the Smithsonian Museum in a box”— the death of Arte Johnson means the duo really is done forever. Until they reunite in the hereafter, that is.
You can see Arte Johnson and Ruth Buzzi in the classic sketch from Laugh-In below.