Henry Gibson was an American actor and singer-songwriter, who rose to fame after appearing in the 1960s comedy sketch ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in’. His deadpan recital of self-written poetry with an unusual southern accent won the TV show’s audience over. He also enjoyed an illustrious movie career, appearing in films like 'The Nutty Professor', 'Nashville', ‘The Long Goodbye’, ‘A Perfect Couple', ‘The Blues Brothers’ and 'Wedding Crashers'. His television appearances include 'Love, American Style', 'The New Adventures of Wonder Woman', 'The Dukes of Hazzard', 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine', 'Stargate SG-1' and 'Boston Legal'. He also lent his voice to the children's movie 'Charlotte's Web' and animated series, such as 'The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy', 'King of the Hill' and 'Rocket Power'.
Childhood & Early Life
James Bateman whose stage name was Henry Gibson was born on September 21, 1935 in Germantown in the state of Philadelphia. His parents, Dorothy and Edmund Alberts Bateman, had seven children, and James was their sixth born.
He began acting at an early age and was the president of Saint Joseph's Preparatory School’s drama club. He graduated from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After college, he served as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force with the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing in France from 1957 to 1960.
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Henry Gibson began performing at the age of seven, appearing in several plays and theater productions. He however became popular for his comedy act, in which he recited poetry pretending to be a poet from Fairhope, Alabama. Between 1957 and 1962, he often appeared on 'Tonight Starring Jack Paar', reciting humorous self-penned poetry.
In 1962, he met Jerry Lewis, a guest-host of 'Tonight Starring Jack Paar', who offered him his breakthrough role of a college student in the sci-fi comedy 'The Nutty Professor' (1963). He subsequently appeared on several television shows, including a few episodes of 'The Joey Bishop Show', and one episode each of 'My Favorite Martian' and 'The Beverly Hillbillies'.
From 1967 to 1971, he was a cast member on 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' and portrayed a unique character, wearing a Nehru jacket and hippie beads while holding an outlandishly large artificial flower. On this show, he also appeared as 'The Poet' with a heavy southern accent, reciting poems with "sharp satirical and political themes". One of his other popular characters on the show was that of a Catholic priest who somberly delivers one-liners in a graveyard. For his roles on the show, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture for TV in 1971.
During the 1960s, he appeared in films like 'Kiss Me, Stupid' (1964) and 'The Outlaws Is Coming' (1965). His television shows of this decade include 'Mister Roberts' (1965), 'F Troop' (1966) and 'Bewitched' (1968-70). Following his success on 'Laugh-In', he re-released his comedy album '...by Henry Gibson' in 1968. The album was originally released in 1962 as 'Alligator'.
From 1969 to 1974, he made several appearances on the comedy anthology series 'Love, American Style'. He also worked in the 1975 satirical musical comedy film 'Nashville', directed by Robert Altman. The film, which saw his character Haven Hamilton sing 'Keep a-Goin'', a poem he had originally recited on 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' in 1966, earned him his second Golden Globe nomination.
He played arch-villain Mariposa in 'The New Adventures of Wonder Woman' (1978) and Will Jason (Squirt) in 'The Dukes of Hazzard' (1980), and had voice roles in 'Charlotte's Web' (1973) and 'The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy' (2004-07). He played the leader of the 'Illinois Nazis' in the musical comedy 'The Blues Brothers' (1980) and the villain opposite Tom Hanks in the horror comedy 'The 'Burbs' (1989).
He portrayed the dramatic role of an erstwhile train conductor in the 1996 independent film 'Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day', while he had a guest role on the TV show 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' (1998). Later in his career, he worked in an episode of 'Stargate SG-1' (2002), several episodes of the series 'Boston Legal' (2004-08), and the 2005 film 'Wedding Crashers'.
Henry Gibson's biggest role was playing Haven Hamilton in 'Nashville', for which he won a 'National Society of Film Critics' award, apart from 'Golden Globe' and 'Grammy' nominations.
He also earned a Golden Globe nomination in 1971 for his performance on 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In'.
Family & Personal Life
Henry Gibson married writer Lois Joan Geiger, who was five years older than him, on April 6, 1966. Their three sons, Jonathan David Gibson, Charles Alexander Gibson, and James Gibson, are all involved in the entertainment industry.
He and his wife lived together for over four decades until her death on May 6, 2007. On September 14, 2009, one week before his 74th birthday, he died of cancer at his home in Malibu, California, and was cremated at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
James Bateman chose the stage name 'Henry Gibson' because it is an oronym for the name of famous Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. During his early career, he also called himself Olsen Gibson.