Dean Martin, 78, whose disarmingly disheveled elegance, breezy charm and baritone ballads made him an immensely popular comic, actor and singer, died of acute respiratory failure Dec. 25 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He had a kidney ailment.

A high school dropout, failed boxer and former steelworker, he was only a moderate success as a club singer when he and a struggling comic named Jerry Lewis decided to team up. The Martin-Lewis duo shot to the entertainment heights. By the early 1950s, they were headliners in clubs across the country, stars of highly successful films and among the most popular "guest performers" on the new medium of television.

Throughout their nightclub and television appearances, and in all 16 of their movies, Mr. Martin tended to be regarded as the second ba\na\na -- the straight man whose long pauses, double takes and trademark drags on cigarettes punctuated the lunatic antics of the loud, fast and manic Jerry Lewis. By 1956, Mr. Martin called it quits. Although he did not write his own jokes or songs and had no real training or experience in serious acting, he decided to go it alone.

While Jerry Lewis continued to be Jerry Lewis in one comic film after another, Mr. Martin seemed to struggle to find his niche. His first movie without Lewis, "Ten Thousand Bedrooms" (1957), bombed. He then made several films in quick succession in which he got somewhat grudging and astonished credit from critics.

In 1958, he starred in "The Young Lions," with Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando -- who praised Mr. Martin's acting. In 1959, he more than held his own as a colorful gambler in "Some Came Running," a movie based on the James Jones novel. The movie starred Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. The same year, he also starred with John Wayne in the classic Howard Hawks-directed Western "Rio Bravo." The year 1960 saw him starring in "Bells Are Ringing" opposite Judy Holliday and "Oceans Eleven," with Sinatra and other nonconformist performers who came to be called the "Rat Pack."

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Martin appeared in a series of four films spoofing the James Bond spy genre. Mr. Martin was "Matt Helm" in the movies "The Silencers," "Murderer's Row," "The Wrecking Crew" and "The Ambushers." He essentially played the public persona he had carefully created for himself -- a self-deprecating ladies' man who could croon tunes and enjoy a cocktail without taking himself or his work terribly seriously.

He not only built up a body of 40 films but also became one of the most popular singers of his era. In the 1950s and early 1960s, people tapped their toes to such songs he helped popularize as "Memories Are Made of This," "Return to Me," "Volare" and "Standing on the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By)." His 1964 recording of "Everybody Needs Somebody" was his television theme song and one of the few distinctly non-rock pop tunes to reach the top of the charts that year.

Mr. Martin's singing skill seemed a gift that was simply given to him and seldom worked at. He once said his technique was simply to imitate Bing Crosby. His laid-back approach to music can be illustrated with a song he sang in the movie "The Caddy." Capitol Records desperately wanted to release it as a single, but Mr. Martin was unimpressed with the song and refused to spend time in a studio making a recording. The desperate record company finally lifted the song from the film's soundtrack. "That's Amore" went on to sell more than 2 million records, be nominated for an Academy Award for best song and become Mr. Martin's greatest hit.

Mr. Martin appeared with Lewis from 1950 to 1955 on "The Colgate Comedy Hour." From 1965 to 1973, he starred in NBC's "The Dean Martin Show," which won critical acclaim and high ratings. The host seemingly ad-libbed his way through much of the show, encouraged the belief that one had always caught him at cocktail hour, and played a slightly lecherous host to various bevies of beautiful dancers and a debonair partner and straight man to comics and singers. He also was the host of a series of comic "roasts."

In 1970, he starred in "Airport," a film that featured the proverbial all-star cast. It was a critical flop but proved popular at the box office. Mr. Martin had negotiated a contract that saw him take home a reported $7 million. He continued to play parts in films and made-for-TV movies into the mid-1980s.

In later years, Mr. Martin toured with fellow "Rat Pack" members Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. but had to give up touring because of kidney problems. He continued to be a popular headliner in Las Vegas.

After learning of Mr. Martin's death, Sinatra said, "Dean was my brother -- not through blood, but through choice." He added: "Good times and bad, we were there for each other. Our friendship has traveled down many roads over the years and there will always be a special place in my heart and soul for Dean."

Lewis showed up at Mr. Martin's 72nd birthday party in 1989, telling him, "Why we broke up I'll never know," according to the Associated Press. "I love you," Mr. Martin replied, "and I mean it."

Lewis was "completely shattered and grief-stricken" after learning of Mr. Martin's death, according to Lewis's manager, Joe Stabile, the AP reported.

Mr. Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, and spent the first five years of his life speaking only Italian. His father was an Italian immigrant barber. The son dropped out of school in the 10th grade to deliver booze for bootleggers, deal cards in back rooms, box and work in the mills. But his pals convinced him that he could sing, and he seemed to spend an eternity trying to make it. He also had a secret wish to do comedy. After he and Lewis teamed up, that wish came true.

Mr. Martin once recalled: "I was doing all the funny things I had always wanted to do. I love to hear laughter, but I couldn't get laughter just singing. Hearing a whole audience laugh is like getting drunk."

Mr. Martin married three times. In 1940, he married Betty McDonald; they divorced after nine years and four children. His second marriage, to Jeanne Riegger, lasted 23 years before it ended in divorce. Among their three children was Dean Paul "Dino" Martin, member of a 1960s teen pop group, Dino, Desi and Billy, and later an actor ("Players"). Young Martin was killed in a National Guard jet crash in 1987. In 1973, Mr. Martin married former model Catherine Mae Hawn, 25. EDWARD N. MOORE LANSRUD Concierge and Consultant

Edward N. Moore Lansrud, 75, a former Washington concierge and language consultant who had lived in this country and the Washington ar\ea since the late 1970s, died Dec. 23 at Alexandria Hospital. He had pneumonia and a heart ailment.

Mr. Lansrud, who was born in Greece to a British father and a White Russian mother, served in the British army during World War II. He worked in the hotel business in Europe before moving to this country. He was a concierge at the Mayflower Hotel in the early 1980s and also did language translation consulting.

He had attended St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church.

His marriages to Martine Jasmin and Colette Lacroix ended in divorce.

Survivors include an adopted daughter, Brigite Jasmin, and a daughter from his first marriage, Christine Jasmin, both of Germany; and a son from his second marriage, Richard Lacroix of McLean. CAPTION: Dean Martin, left, and Jerry Lewis formed one of show business's most successful comedy acts before Martin left in 1956 to begin a solo career. nament crowns this weekend. CAPTION: DEAN MARTIN