Comedic actor Martin Mull, star of ‘Roseanne,’ ‘Arrested Development,’ dies at 80

Jun 29, 2024, 10:39 AM | Updated: 2:27 pm

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Actor Martin Mull attends FOX Hosts "The Cool Kids" Outdoor Scree...

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Actor Martin Mull attends FOX Hosts "The Cool Kids" Outdoor Screening Event at Roxbury Park on September 24, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Martin Mull, whose droll, esoteric comedy and acting made him a hip sensation in the 1970s and later a beloved guest star on sitcoms including “Roseanne” and “Arrested Development,” has died, his daughter said Friday. He was 80.

Mull’s daughter, TV writer and comic artist Maggie Mull, said her father died at home on Thursday after “a valiant fight against a long illness.”

Mull, who was also a guitarist and painter, came to national fame with a recurring role on the Norman Lear-created satirical soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” and the starring role in its spinoff, “Fernwood Tonight.”

“He was known for excelling at every creative discipline imaginable and also for doing Red Roof Inn commercials,” Maggie Mull said in an Instagram post. “He would find that joke funny. He was never not funny. My dad will be deeply missed by his wife and daughter, by his friends and coworkers, by fellow artists and comedians and musicians, and—the sign of a truly exceptional person—by many, many dogs.”

Known for his blonde hair and well-trimmed mustache, Mull was born in Chicago, raised in Ohio and Connecticut and studied art in Rhode Island and Rome.

His first foray into show business was as a songwriter, penning the 1970 semi-hit “A Girl Named Johnny Cash” for singer Jane Morgan.

He would combine music and comedy in an act that he brought to hip Hollywood clubs in the 1970s.

“In 1976 I was a guitar player and sit-down comic appearing at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip when Norman Lear walked in and heard me,” Mull told The Associated Press in 1980. “He cast me as the wife beater on ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.’ Four months later I was spun off on my own show.”

His time on the Strip was memorialized in the 1973 country rock classic “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” where the Riders of the Purple Sage give him a shoutout along with music luminaries Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

“I know Kris and Rita and Marty Mull are hangin’ at the Troubadour,” the song says.

On “Fernwood Tonight” (sometimes styled as “Fernwood 2 Night”), he played Barth Gimble, the host of a local talk show in a midwestern town and twin to his “Mary Hartman” character. Fred Willard, a frequent collaborator with very similar comic sensibilities, played his sidekick. It was later revamped as “America 2 Night” and set in Southern California.

He would get to be a real talk show host as a substitute for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

Mull often played slightly sleazy, somewhat slimy and often smarmy characters as he did as Teri Garr’s boss and Michael Keaton’s foe in 1983’s “Mr. Mom.” He played Colonel Mustard in the 1985 movie adaptation of the board game “Clue,” which, like many things Mull appeared in, has become a cult classic.

The 1980s also brought what many thought was his best work, “A History of White People in America,” a mockumentary that first aired on Cinemax. Mull co-created the show and starred as a “60 Minutes” style investigative reporter investigating all things milquetoast and mundane. Willard was again a co-star.

He wrote and starred in 1988’s “Rented Lips” alongside Robert Downey Jr., whose father, Robert Sr., directed.

His co-star Jennifer Tilly said in an X post Friday that Mull was “such a witty charismatic and kind person.”

In the 1990s he was best known for his recurring role on several seasons on “Roseanne,” in which he played a warmer, less sleazy boss to the title character, an openly gay man whose partner was played by Willard, who died in 2020.

Mull would later play private eye Gene Parmesan on “Arrested Development,” a cult-classic character on a cult-classic show, and would be nominated for an Emmy, his first, in 2016 for a guest run on “Veep.”

“What I did on ‘Veep’ I’m very proud of, but I’d like to think it’s probably more collective, at my age it’s more collective,” Mull told the AP after his nomination. “It might go all the way back to ‘Fernwood.’”

Other comedians and actors were often his biggest fans.

“Martin was the greatest,” “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig said on X. “So funny, so talented, such a nice guy. Was lucky enough to act with him on The Jackie Thomas Show and treasured every moment being with a legend. Fernwood Tonight was so influential in my life.”

Mull is survived by his daughter and musician Wendy Haas, his wife since 1982.


Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

22 hours ago

Photo: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani talks to reporters as he leaves the federal courthouse i...

Associated Press

Judge says Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy case likely to be dismissed. But his debts aren’t going away

A judge said he was leaning toward throwing out Rudy Giuliani's bankruptcy case. A dismissal would end his pursuit of bankruptcy protection.

2 days ago

biden democrats...

Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press

Biden tells Hill Democrats he ‘declines’ to step aside and says it’s time for party drama ‘to end’

President Joe Biden stood firm against calls for him to drop his candidacy and called for an "end" to the intraparty drama.

4 days ago

In this photo provided by NASA, Boeing Crew Flight Test astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Wi...


Astronauts will stay at the space station longer for more troubleshooting of Boeing capsule

Two NASA astronauts will stay longer at the International Space Station as engineers troubleshoot problems on Boeing’s new space capsule.

14 days ago

moore redmond washington...

Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Redmond couple challenging foreign income tax

The court ruled in the case of Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Redmond, Washington after they previously challenged a $15,000 tax bill.

22 days ago

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

24 days ago

Comedic actor Martin Mull, star of ‘Roseanne,’ ‘Arrested Development,’ dies at 80