Pat McCormick, 78, a veteran comedian and comedy writer who made scores of appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," was a regular guest on "The Gong Show" and appeared in the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, died July 29 at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles.
Mr. McCormick entered the facility in 1998 after suffering a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.
"Few, very few, will ever be able to craft a joke as beautifully as Pat," comedian Shelley Berman, a longtime friend, told the Los Angeles Times. "He was able to just make it all happen. I don't think he was great at telling them, but he was sure great at putting them down."
The walrus-mustachioed Mr. McCormick had a gift for wacky and sometimes warped humor.
On the television writers' strike in 1988: "We writers will know we're missed when we see our pictures on milk cartons."
On going on the wagon: "I gave up drinking booze when my liver started showing up on airport metal detectors."
And a classic joke of his that Carson delivered after a big temblor hit the L.A. area: "Due to today's earthquake, the God Is Dead rally has been canceled."
In his sketches on the Carson show, Mr. McCormick played several human characters but also dressed in costume to play various wildlife, including turkeys, peacocks, squirrels and the shark from the film "Jaws."
Mr. McCormick was born in Lakewood, Ohio. He was a champion hurdler in high school, then served in the Army from 1946 to 1948. He graduated from Harvard University, and a year into studies at Harvard Law School, he dropped out to work in advertising in New York.
His advertising career was short-lived after he began making money writing material for television and nightclub performers, including comics Jonathan Winters, Henny Youngman and Phyllis Diller.
Eventually, he became a full-time writer for "The Jack Paar Show," the start of a comedy writing career that spanned five decades. He wrote for Merv Griffin, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye, and wrote for and appeared on "Candid Camera." He also wrote for TV specials starring Bette Midler and Steve Martin.
On television, he served as announcer and straight man on Don Rickles's short-lived variety show in 1968. In 1972, he was a regular on "The New Bill Cosby Show." He also was a key player in the legendary Friars Club Roasts for several years.
Mr. McCormick was a popular fixture on talk shows. On radio, he voiced and wrote hundreds of commercials.
In addition to his role as Big Enos Burdette opposite Burt Reynolds in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, Mr. McCormick was in two Robert Altman movies: "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson," in which he played President Grover Cleveland, and "A Wedding," in which he played wealthy industrialist Mackenzie "Mac" Goddard, husband of the character played by Dina Merrill.
"Pat's life was enhanced by a never-failing comedic spirit, contagious to all around him," comedic actor Jack Riley said in a statement. "I was walking with Pat one night outside of the Braille Institute on Ventura Boulevard. Pat looked to the second floor and noticed five or six totally darkened windows, 'Ah,' he said, 'I see they're working late.' "
"His mind went to places that most people's don't . . . truly original places where poets are found."
Survivors include a son and a grandson.