Actress who married Burt Reynolds and became the popular fall girl on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
07 Sep 2015
Judy Carne, who has died aged 76, was a bouncy, auburn-haired British actress who won overnight fame in the 1960s as the Sock It To Me girl on the hit television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In; she returned, albeit briefly, to the limelight in 1985 when she published an autobiography in which she told of her volatile relationship with her first husband Burt Reynolds, confessed to a string of affairs with members of both sexes and chronicled battles with drug addiction.
A fairly successful television actress when she joined the cast of Laugh-in in 1968, as the Sock It To Me girl Judy Carne became the most popular person on the show for her zany, daffy, mini-skirted comic persona, continually getting doused with a bucket of water, or subjected to some other humiliation, every time she uttered the words “Sock it to me!”
Judy Carne remained with the show for two years but left in the middle of the third series complaining that it had become “ a big, bloody bore”, though it was noted that her disenchantment coincided with the emergence of Goldie Hawn as the show’s female star.
After she left Laugh-In Judy Carne became a heroin addict and her career went into a tailspin. Her problems worsened to the extent that when she published her autobiography Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside (written with the help of a former companion, Bob Merrill), one reviewer remarked that “for a person with evidently no sense of judgment about people and… no sense of internal perspective, it is noteworthy enough that [she] lived long enough to tell such a tale, much less publish it.”
Judy Carne herself once observed: “I’m a 1960s flowerchild who has refused to grow up. Mature and responsible are words I don’t understand.”
She was born Joyce Audrey Botterill on April 27 1939 and brought up at Kingsthorpe, near Northampton, where her parents ran a greengrocer’s shop. As a child she showed a talent for acting and dancing and went on to train at the Bush Davies Theatrical School for Girls at East Grinstead. She made her West End debut in 1956 in the revue For Amusement Only and her television debut the same year in The First Day of Spring.
She went on to build a solid career on British television, including appearing as a panellist on Juke Box Jury and in the sit-com The Rag Trade. In 1961 she appeared in the film comedy A Pair of Briefs. Her conquests at this time, she claimed, included Vidal Sassoon, Stirling Moss and the actor Anthony Newley. “How lucky to be 18 years old and go with Vidal Sassoon. And to be with Stirling Moss at 19. What a privilege,” she recalled.
Moving to the United States in the early 1960s, she was first introduced to American audiences as Heather Finch, a British exchange student, in the television comedy series Fair Exchange (1962). She went on to play the daughter of a tycoon who falls in love with a poor boy in The Baileys of Balboa (1964-5) and had a small part as a “nameless broad” found in bed with James Coburn in the film The Americanisation of Emily (1964). She also appeared in The Man from U.N.C.L.E and in the ABC sitcom Love on a Rooftop (1966-67).
After leaving Laugh-in, Judy Carne starred as Polly in The Boyfriend on Broadway and appeared on talk and game shows. Yet by the mid-1970s she was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In 1963 she had married Burt Reynolds, recalling that when they first met “we were immediately in love, so we immediately made love. I was engulfed by him, my small body lost in his large frame.” After their marriage, he became abusive, she alleged. They divorced in 1966.
There followed one-night stands with Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty, and what she described as “a meaningful relationship with a woman for a year and a half”, before 1970 when she married Robert Bergmann, a unemployed man she described as “very bright – he’s been an assistant producer, done modelling and handled stocks”. The marriage lasted for six months, but Bergmann came back into her life in the late 1970s. “We helped each other,” she told an interviewer. “We went to a dance class, and to a group therapy class where you shout your angers.”
By this time, an experimental use of drugs had developed into full-blown addiction. Her life hit rock bottom in 1977 and 1978 when, in the space of four months, she was busted three times – on charges ranging from drug possession to car theft. At the end of March 1978 she was rushed to hospital after collapsing with “vertigo and nausea”, owing to a possible drug overdose. In June that year, while celebrating her acquittal on charges of heroin possession, she and Bergmann (who was driving) were involved in a near-fatal car accident which left her with a broken neck.
The following year she was charged with heroin possession and prescription forgery. She was acquitted of the heroin charge. When the jury couldn’t reach a verdict over the forgery, a new trial was set but Judy Carne failed to show up for it, so she was charged with contempt of court and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
It was around this time that she moved back to Northampton, where she began work on her book. She claimed that the process of writing had helped her to put her life back together again, but it would be some time before her troubles were properly resolved.
In later life, however, Judy Carne did find an element of peace in the village of Pitsford, Northamptonshire, where she lived a quiet life with two dogs and was much liked by her neighbours.
Judy Carne, born April 27 1939, died September 3 2015