Sunday, November 8, 2009

Who Is That: Henry Gibson

Name: Henry Gibson
Occupation: Actor
Born: September 21, 1935
Died: September 14, 2009

I had been meaning to write an article about one of my all-time favorite actors and comedians, Henry Gibson, for quite some time. Sadly, I now write this as a memorial since he passed away just a few months ago. I was greatly bereaved to hear of his death. The tremendous talents and versatility of this outstanding man, best remembered for his work on the TV show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" and for films such as Nashville, The 'burbs, and The Blues Brothers, will be long remembered.

Born James Bateman in Germantown, Pennsylvania, the actor donned the name Henry Gibson as a take on the famed playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen. Though he began performing on stage and in films as early as 1963 (in Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor), Gibson first gained major national success and a Golden Globe nomination for the hit television show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" which featured other rising stars such as Jo Anne Worley, Arte Johnston, Ruth Buzzi, and Goldie Hawn. Gibson's famously simplistic poetry recitations on the show have been much quoted and often imitated over the decades.

He set one of his poems, "Keep a Goin'", to music which he performed in Robert Altman's film Nashville, one of his most highly acclaimed film roles (Golden Globe nomination and National Society of Film Critics Award). He also appeared in the Altman films The Long Goodbye, HealtH, and A Perfect Couple.

My initial admiration for Gibson came along with his performance as the polite and subtly crazed serial killer Dr. Werner Klopek in Joe Dante's The 'burbs, in which he starred along Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, and Bruce Dern. His performance alone put this movie toward the top of my favorites list.

Gibson's talents and versatility were also utilized by director John Landis who cast him as the leader of the "Illinois Nazis" in the iconic film The Blues Brothers starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, a role many still remember him for.

He has also been seen in the films Inner Space, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Luck of the Irish, and Tune in Tomorrow...(an under-appreciated comedy alongside Peter Falk and Keanu Reeves). More recently, he made memorable appearances in films such as Magnolia (as eccentric barfly Thurston Howell, another favorite of mine), Teddy Bears' Picnic, and Wedding Crashers.

The actor also put in a wealth of television appearances including shows such as the "The Dick van Dyke Show", "Bewitched", "Tales from the Crypt", "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", "The Dukes of Hazzard", "Fantasy Island", "Magnum P.I.", "Malcolm in the Middle", "Charmed", and many others. As recently as last year, Gibson appeared in a total of 24 episodes of the hit series "Boston Legal" as Judge Clark Brown.

In addition to this vast body of work, Gibson also put in a slew of voice over work for such hit cartoons as "The Wuzzles", "The Wild Thornberrys", "King of the Hill", "Smurfs", "Rugrats", "Hey Arnold!", "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy", etc. He also did some of his most famous voice work for the hit animated movie Charlotte's Web in which he provided the voice of Wilbur.

Henry Gibson's wide range of roles and performances in almost every genre imaginable have allowed him to reach audiences of all ages the world over. I will never forget this man who stood a mere 5'3" but whose talent dwarfed many in his field.

Below is a fan-made video collection of Gibson reciting his poems on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In". The collection includes appearances by Sammy Davis Jr., John Wayne, and Ruth Buzzi. R.I.P. Henry!

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