American comic actor Henry Gibson acted professionally since childhood, but didn't gain prominence until his discovery by Jerry Lewis for a role in The Nutty Professor (1963). Gibson quickly developed a comedy act for TV variety shows, in which he passed himself off as a fey, Southern-accented "blank verse" poet. So convincing was this persona that many viewers believed Gibson was a genuine Southerner, though he actually hailed from Pennsylvania. He played a cruder variation of his yokel character as a patron of the "Belly Button" bar in Billy Wilder's Kiss Me Stupid (1964), and was hilarious as a hip-talking Indian in the Three Stooges' feature film The Outlaws is Coming (1965). Gibson might have continued in small roles indefinitely had he not been catapulted to stardom in 1968 as part of the ensemble on TV's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where his introductory "A poem...by Henry Gibson" became a national catchphrase. Gibson stayed with Laugh-In until 1971, whereupon he launched a reasonably successful career as a straight character actor. One of his best film roles of the '70s was Haven Hamilton, a hard-driving, flag-waving country-western star in Nashville (1975). Gibson not only delivered an expert performance but also co-wrote the songs sung by Haven Hamilton, including the deliberately banal Bicentennial ballad, "200 Years", in one of the film's early scenes. Henry Gibson continued throughout the next two decades playing strong movie character parts (the neo-Nazi commander in 1980's The Blues Brothers) and bright little cameos (the closet-smoking security guard in 1990's Gremlins 2). Gibson was also ubiquitously available as a guest star on such cable-TV reruns as Bewitched (he played a leprechaun) and F Troop (he was jinxed Private Wrongo Starr). He died of cancer in September 2009, about a week before his 74th birthday.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Began acting at the age of 8, touring professionally with the Mae Desmond Theatre.
- After serving as an intelligence officer in the Air Force in the late 1950s, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
- After college, shared an apartment with friend and aspiring actor Jon Voight in New York. They created a comedy act about two hillbillies named Harold and Henry Gibson (taken from the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen).
- Got his break with a performance on The Tonight Show.
- Was an original ensemble member of the sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; best known for clutching a daisy and reciting a brief verse beginning with his trademark, "A poem, by Henry Gibson."
- Won acclaim as a country singer in Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville.
- Had a recurring role as the irritating Judge Clark Brown on Boston Legal.