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Arte Johnson, the Emmy Award-winning comic actor who appeared on NBC’s Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from the 1960s and lent his voice acting talents to several animated children’s shows over several decades, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 90. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson died of heart failure after a three-year battle with bladder and prostate cancer.
Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson was born on January 20, 1929, in Benton Harbor, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1949, Johnson claimed he got his first job in show business by impulsively stepping into an audition line at a Broadway theater, where he was immediately cast in a production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
And just as his performance career began as a fluke, so did the creation of his stage name, Arte. After originally being billed as "Art E. Johnson," his name was accidentally posted as "Arte" on a playbill. Since Johnson liked the look and sound of the name, he kept it.
In addition to Laugh-In, for which he won an Emmy in 1969, Johnson also appeared on several episodes of the TV series Fantasy Island, starred in the weekly children’s series Hot Fudge Show in 1976, and co-starred as Renfield in the vampire comedy Love at First Bite in 1979.
Johnson also served as a voice actor on numerous animated shows such as The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (yes, the Scooby series featuring Vincent Price), The Smurfs, DuckTales, Snorks, and Justice League Unlimited.
“I was always a reactive performer. You set me up in a pattern, and I'll react to it,” Johnson once admitted in an interview. “A guy does something, I will react to it. I adore that.”
Johnson added that he couldn’t “be the number one” and “was born to be a second banana,” which was just fine by him.