Judy Carne had a starring role in “Love on a Rooftop” and later became widely known on “Laugh-In.”
Judy Carne, a sprightly British actress and comedian who rocketed to pop culture fame as the “sock it to me” girl on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a landmark of television zaniness, before her career was derailed by drug arrests and a near-fatal automobile accident, died Thursday in Northampton, England. She was 76.
The probable cause was pneumonia, said a friend, Jon Barrett.
After starting her career in England and building a résumé of appearances onstage, on television and in movies, Miss Carne moved to the United States, where her first television role was as an exchange student in the sitcom “Fair Exchange.” She also became the first wife of a later-to-be movie star, Burt Reynolds.
She made guest appearances on westerns including “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke,” dramas like “12 O’Clock High” and comedies including “Gidget” and “The Patty Duke Show” before landing a starring role in “Love on a Rooftop,” a romantic comedy set in San Francisco about a young woman from a wealthy family who has disappointed her father by marrying a struggling young architect played by Peter Deuel (later known as Pete Duel).
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Miss Carne became widely known on “Laugh-In,” an ensemble comedy show composed of brief bits of slapstick antics and verbal nonsense tumbling over one another in furious succession. It ran on NBC from 1968 to 1973.
Often racy in content — well, racy for the time — the show featured attractive women (Miss Carne and Goldie Hawn among them) in miniskirts and other revealing costumes and jokes about sex, drugs and politics that tested network censors. It was enormously popular, in part because of Miss Carne and the running gag that became a national meme.
Slender but shapely, with a pixieish haircut and a gamely irrepressible manner, she would appear before the camera and declare, in one variation or another, “It’s sock-it-to-me time,” and she would be subsequently doused with water or she’d vanish through a trap door in the floor or have some other indignity visited on her.
The phrase “sock it to me,” evidently seized by the show’s writers from a chant in Aretha Franklin’s recording of the Otis Redding song “Respect,” became cool, hip enough lingo that celebrity guests appeared on “Laugh-In” in cameo bits to utter it, including, most famously, Richard Nixon, less than two months before he was elected president in 1968.
Miss Carne was trained in dance and theater and reportedly took the name Judy at the suggestion of a teacher. The name Carne came from a character in a play by the English playwright Charlotte Hastings. She was born Joyce Audrey Botterill in Northampton on April 27, 1939. Her parents were greengrocers.
Miss Carne left “Laugh-In” in 1970. The sock-it-to-me label had become trying to live with, she said; people would douse her with water on the street.
That year she starred in a Broadway revival of the musical “The Boy Friend,” but her life began spiraling out of control as a drug habit grew worse. She was arrested several times, and as a result she wasn’t being cast as readily as she had been, and her nightclub bookings dried up.
She and Reynolds divorced in 1965, and in her 1985 autobiography, “Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside,” written with Bob Merrill, she wrote that Reynolds was abusive.
In the memoir she confessed to myriad love affairs with name-brand actors and others, and she acknowledged her drug abuse, including an addiction to heroin. A second marriage, to Robert Bergmann (sometimes spelled Bergman) in 1970, lasted less than a year, although he figured importantly later in her life. She leaves no immediate survivors.
Barrett said he met Miss Carne when she returned to England after the 1978 automobile accident, settling in Pitsford, near Northampton. He was a hairdresser and she came in to have her hair cut, he said. Miss Carne was popular with her neighbors and performed occasionally in cabaret and dinner theater, he said, but she was frail and remained so.
“She was a bit of a recluse toward the end,” Barrett said.
The accident came about after she began spending time again with her former husband Bergmann. He was behind the wheel when their car went off the road in Bucks County, Pa., and she broke her neck.
“I lost sight of myself in the last few years,” she told People magazine during her recuperation. “My whole life has been extremes. It took me near death to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
She added: “I guess this is the ultimate sock-it-to-me.”