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Dean Martin, actor, singer, drinker, dies

Dean Martin, the singer, actor and Hollywood "Rat Pack" reveller, died at his Beverly Hills home yesterday, aged 78. His long-time agent and friend Mort Viner said the entertainer, whose career was inextricably linked with his theme song "Little Old Wine Drinker Me'', died of respiratory failure.

Martin, perhaps best remembered for his film and stage partnership with the comedian Jerry Lewis, broke up the duo in 1957. He wasn't expected to succeed after that.

In fact he became a much bigger star than he had been as straight man and singer, beginning with the 1958 war drama The Young Lions, which also starred Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.

With stardom came membership of the Rat Pack, the Hollywood boys' club that included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford, with John F Kennedy, Lawford's brother-in-law, an honorary member. Martin cited the two greatest turning points in his career as: "First, meeting Jerry Lewis. Second, leaving Jerry Lewis. I became a real actor because of those two things."

In 1965, NBC first presented The Dean Martin Show, a musical variety hour through which Martin ambled with customary ease, often pretending to be drunk. The show enjoyed high ratings for eight years.

More recently, a 1992 book portrayed Martin as an ailing alcoholic who dined out alone every night. Martin himself said he never drank to excess because he didn't like to be sick.