Henry Gibson (September 21, 1935 – September 14, 2009) was an American actor, singer and songwriter, best known as a cast member of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, for his portrayal of diminutive country star Haven Hamilton in Nashville, and for his recurring role as Judge Clark Brown on Boston Legal.
Gibson was born as James Bateman in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Edmund Albert Bateman and his wife Dorothy (Cassidy). He attended Saint Joseph's Preparatory School, where he was president of the drama club. After graduating from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. He then developed an act in which he played a poet from Alabama. His stage name was a play on that of dramatist Henrik Ibsen.
Gibson's performing career began at the age of seven. He appeared in many stage and theater productions. Gibson made many appearances on Tonight Starring Jack Paar between 1957 and 1962, often reciting his poetry. His career took off when he performed in the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor (1963). This was followed in 1964 by his poetry-reciting cowboy character Quirt Manly on the popular show The Beverly Hillbillies. 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: The 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, where he was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1971. 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 "[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 1978, he appeared in The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman as the arch-villain Mariposa.
In 1980, he appeared on The Dukes of Hazzard, as Will Jason (Squirt), in the second season episode "Find Loretta Lynn". The same year, he played the leader of the "Illinois Nazis" in the John Landis film The Blues Brothers; this became one of his best-known film roles. 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 Hanna-Barbera children's movie Charlotte's Web (1973) and later worked for them in the cartoon The Biskitts. He also worked on the cartoon The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy as Lord Pain, King of the Hill as reporter Bob Jenkins, and Rocket Power as grouchy neighbor Merv Stimpleton.
In the 1989 Joe Dante comedy The 'Burbs, starring Tom Hanks, Gibson played the villain named Werner Klopek. Gibson reunited with director Dante a few years later when Gremlins 2: The New Batch 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 named Daniel Clamp (played by John Glover). Guest-starring in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he played the Ferengi "Nilva" in the 1998 episode, "Profit and Lace".
He had a leading role in a Season 5 episode of Stargate SG-1 entitled "The Sentinel", as the character Marul. Gibson's last major 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.
On April 6, 1966, Gibson married Lois Joan Geiger, who was five years his senior. They had three sons - Jonathan David Gibson, an executive at Universal Pictures, Charles Alexander Gibson, a director and visual effects supervisor, and James Gibson, a screenwriter. His wife died on May 6, 2007, at age 77.
On September 14, 2009, Gibson died of cancer at his home in Malibu, California, a week before his 74th birthday. He was cremated at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.