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Pat McCormick, 78, comedian writer

HOLLYWOOD -- Pat McCormick -- a veteran comedian and comedy writer who made scores of appearances on ''The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, was a regular guest on ''The Gong Show," and appeared in three ''Smokey and the Bandit" movies -- died Friday at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. He was 78.

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, said Friday. ''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. Some of his tamer lines went like this: 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 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 dressed in costume to play a variety of wildlife, including turkeys, peacocks, squirrels, and the shark from ''Jaws."

Mr. McCormick was born in Lakewood, Ohio, on June 30, 1927. He was a champion hurdler in high school and served in the Army from 1946 to 1948. After military service, he graduated from Harvard College. A year into studies at Harvard Law School, he dropped out to work in advertising in New York City.

His advertising career was short-lived after he began making money writing comedy material for television and nightclub performers, including Jonathan Winters, Henny Youngman, and Phyllis Diller. He also briefly did a stand-up act with Marc London, whom he had known from Harvard. Eventually Mr. McCormick became a full-time writer for ''The Jack Paar Show."

He wrote for Merv Griffin, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, and wrote for and appeared on ''Candid Camera." On television, he served as announcer/straight man on Don Rickles's short-lived variety show in 1968, and in 1972 he was a regular on ''The New Bill Cosby Show."

Mr. McCormick was also a key player in the legendary Friar's Club Roasts for several years. In addition to the Carson show and numerous appearances on ''The Gong Show," 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," 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.

Jack Riley, who played the part of Elliot Carlin on ''The Bob Newhart Show," commented on his friend's career Friday. ''Pat's life was enhanced by a never-failing comedic spirit, contagious to all around him," Riley said in a statement. His mind went to places that most people's don't. . . . Truly original places where poets are found."

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