Judy Carne: Actress celebrated as the 'Sock it to me' girl on 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' whose career was derailed by drug use

Wednesday 09 September 2015 19:42

Drawing partly on the antic spirit of That Was The Week That Was, with an added infusion of all-American zaniness, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In made stars of several female performers, most notably Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin – and Judy Carne, who has died of pneumonia at the age of 76.

Laugh-In's stock-in-trade was quickfire recurring sketches, one of which involved Carne and her catchphrase, "Sock it to me", repeated at breakneck pace until some humiliation or other was heaped upon her, often involving buckets of water. With her mobile features and wacky expressions, she encapsulated perfectly the show's quintessentially Sixties humour.

The daughter of Northampton greengrocers, Joyce Botterill, as she was born, showed early talent for acting and singing, and she trained at the Bush Davies Theatrical School for Girls at East Grinstead, making her West End debut in 1956 in the revue For Amusement Only. She became a mainstay of British television before her Stateside career, appearing in the first series of the sitcom The Rag Trade and as a panellist on Juke Box Jury, as well as taking small parts in series like Danger Man.

In her warts-and-all 1985 autobiography Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the Sock-It-To-Me Girl she claimed that her lovers at the time included Vidal Sassoon, Stirling Moss and Anthony Newley. "How lucky to be 18 years old and go with Vidal Sassoon," she wrote. "And to be with Stirling Moss at 19. What a privilege."

She moved to the US in the early 1960s, starring in the sitcom Fair Exchange as an English teenager who goes to live with an American family whose daughter has made the reverse journey. Other roles included a "nameless broad", as she put it, found in bed with James Coburn in the 1964 Second World War film The Americanisation of Emily, and parts in episodes of The Man from UNCLE, Bonanza and The Big Valley, among others.

In 1963 she married Burt Reynolds, but they were divorced by 1965; she alleged in her autobiography that the relationship became abusive, but it was love at first sight. "We were immediately in love, so we immediately made love," she wrote. "I was engulfed by him, my small body lost in his large frame." There may have been early-warning bells when Reynolds cut short their honeymoon in order to watch American football on television.

She was later married for a year to an aspiring producer, Robert Bergmann, who she described as "very bright – he's been an assistant producer, done modelling and handled stocks." Between the two marriages, she recalled, there were one-night stands with Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty, and a relationship with a woman that lasted a year and a half.

Hosted by the night-club comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Laugh-In ran for 140 episodes between 1968 and 1973, its title a play on the love-ins, be-ins and sit-ins that helped give the Sixties its anti-establishment flavour. Carne was in the first two series but left during the third, saying it had become "a big, bloody bore" – although it was noted, perhaps unkindly, that she had been supplanted as the show's alpha female by Goldie Hawn.

Life post-Laugh In was not easy for Carne. She stayed in the US, becoming a regular on chat shows and game shows and starring on Broadway in a revival of The Boyfriend in the role of Polly, which had been played in the musical's original 1955 Broadway run by a debuting Julie Andrews. Carne also played opposite Tom Bell in the 1971 drama All The Right Noises, but her career fell apart as dabbling in drugs descended into heroin addiction.

In the space of four months in the late 1970s she was arrested three times, for possessing drugs and stealing a car, and in March 1978 she was taken to hospital after a probable overdose. She and Bergmann got back together, and helped each other battle their respective demons – "We went to a dance class, and to a group therapy class where you shout your angers," she recalled in an interview.

But the couple were involved in a car crash while she was celebrating being acquitted of possessing heroin, and she was left with a broken neck. She was arrested again for heroin and for forging a prescription, but returned to Britain and began work on her memoir, which, she said, helped her sort herself out, though the process did take some years. One reviewer observed of the book that "for a person with evidently no sense of judgment about people and no sense of internal perspective, it is noteworthy enough that she lived long enough to tell such a tale, much less publish it."

She spent her later years in the Northamptonshire village of Pitsford, living a quiet life and looking after her dogs.

Judy Carne was one of many casualties of the Sixties, but then, as she once said of herself, "I'm a 1960s flower child who has refused to grow up. Mature and responsible are words I don't understand." µ CHRIS MAUME

Joyce Audrey Botterill (Judy Carne), actress: born Northampton 27 April 1939; married 1963 Burt Reynolds (divorced 1965), 1970 Robert Bergmann (divorced 1971); died Northamptonshire 3 September 2015.

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