Henry came on the national scene with a bang as part of "Laugh-In." Everyone of TV-viewing age at the time remembers "A Poem, by Henry Gibson" as being an oasis of witty calm amid the frantic knockabout comedy of the hit show.
I got to know Henry years later. I was casting a movie I had written and was to direct, and the part in question was about to go to an actor I'd long known and admired, when Henry walked into the audition. He sent the message "This part is mine" not with swagger but with an easy sense of assurance and knowledge of the character, with wit and intelligence. During the shooting, which was arduous, Henry was again an oasis of calm and, now, wisdom, gently suggesting very funny ideas almost all of which made their way into the final product.
Since then, we had talked occasionally -- too occasionally -- by phone, and those conversations were wide-ranging, smart, and always tinged with Henry's gentle intensity. In a business filled with frantic narcissism and aggressive neurosis, Henry was an island of adulthood. If he wasn't a Buddhist, he could have taught them a thing or two.
My only regret is I didn't get to spend more time with him. In a time of bad prose, Henry Gibson was a poem.
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