Henry Gibson

Gibson in 1969. (NBC)

Henry Gibson, a veteran character actor who came to fame in the late 1960s as the flower-holding poet on TV's landmark satirical comedy show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," has died. He was 73.

Gibson died late Monday night at his home in Malibu after a short battle with cancer, said his son Jon.

Gibson, who more recently played a recurring role as cantankerous Judge Clark Brown on "Boston Legal," was part of the original ensemble cast of “Laugh In,” which ran on NBC from 1968 to 1973.

The hourlong show, whose original cast included Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Jo Anne Worley and others, was an immediate hit.

"Henry was an integral part of 'Laugh-In' for a long time, and he was brilliant," said Gary Owens, the show's announcer, who remained close to Gibson over the years. "He was a very funny man."

Worley said Gibson "was probably the kindest person on 'Laugh-In' " and was the person she'd call whenever she needed show-business advice.

"I'm personally devastated that such a good friend is gone," she said.

George Schlatter, executive producer and creator of "Laugh-In," recalled that when Gibson auditioned for the show, "He came in and did a poem and a full back flip. He said, 'Is that anything?' I said, 'Be here Monday.' "

Gibson "brought a wonderful warmth and whimsy and a charm to 'Laugh-In.' That went a long way to balance some of the political, satirical and bawdy humor we featured," Schlatter said.

"Henry was a sweet, gentle man. Any piece we gave to Henry took on a different shape when he read it because he infused his own whimsy and his own gentle intelligence and wit to it."

In the show's famous cocktail party scenes, when the music would stop and each cast member would deliver a funny line, Gibson was a religious figure holding a teacup and saucer.

"My congregation supports all denominations," he said on one show, "but our favorites are twenties and fifties."

But Gibson was best known as the poet, holding a large flower and beginning his brief recitations with his signature catchphrase, "A poem, by Henry Gibson."

"He wrote all those himself," Jon Gibson said. "It was a point of pride that he only read poems that he himself wrote."

During one of his frequent guest appearances on the show, John Wayne spoofed Gibson by coming around the wall holding a flower and delivering "A poem, by John Wayne."

"Roses are red, violets are green," Wayne said, "Get off your butt and join the Marines."

Gibson's poems led to two comedy albums, "The Alligator" and "The Grass Menagerie," and a book, "A Flower Child's Garden of Verses."

Gibson's family said he used his fame to help support the fledgling environmental movement, including contributing op-ed pieces and poetry to newspapers and other publications.

Looking back on his time on "Laugh-In" in a 1993 interview with The Times, Gibson said, "It was an oasis of laughter and escape."