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Note: The actor from “Arrested Development” was 80

Martin Mull, the comedian and actor who started in the 1970s with the television series “Fernwood 2 Night” and later appeared as Colonel Mustard in “Clue” as well as in “Arrested Development” and “Roseanne,” died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 80 years old.

His daughter Maggie announced his death on Instagram, writing: “I am heartbroken to share that my father passed away at home on June 27th after a brave battle with a long illness. He was known for excelling in every creative discipline imaginable, including his Red Roof Inn commercials. He would have found this joke funny. It was always funny. My father will be sorely missed by his wife and daughter, by his friends and colleagues, by fellow artists, comedians and musicians, and – the mark of a truly extraordinary person – by many, many dogs. I loved him immensely.”

Mull was nominated for an Emmy in 2016 for his guest role as political advisor Bob Bradley in “Veep.” He recently made guest appearances in “The Afterparty,” “Not Dead Yet,” and “Grace and Frankie.”

In 2015, he guest starred in the NBC comedy “Community” as George Perry, the father of Gillian Jacobs’ Britta Perry, and in the CBS comedy “Life in Pieces.”

Mull had a recurring role from 2008 to 2013 in “Two and a Half Men” as Russell, a pharmacist who uses and sells illegal drugs and attended Charlie’s funeral in the first episode of season 9. The actor also appeared in “Arrested Development” as a rather incompetent private investigator named Gene Parmesan, who has a habit of showing up in silly disguises.

Mull was a series regular in Seth MacFarlane’s one-semester Fox comedy Dads in 2013 and 2014, which starred Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as the owners of a video game company. In the role, he played the father of Ribisi’s character.

In 2008, he guest-starred on Law & Order: SVU as Dr. Gideon Hutton, whose denial of the existence of AIDS leads to his conviction for willful negligence in connection with the deaths of several people.

Mull’s film and television career actually began with his appearance as talk show host Barth Gimble on the Norman Lear-created, scathingly satirical television series “Fernwood 2 Night,” later renamed “America Tonight,” in 1977 and 1978. The parody talk show also featured Fred Willard in a supporting role as Gimble’s dimwitted sidekick Jerry Hubbard. These shows were spin-offs of Lear’s groundbreaking soap opera parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

RELATED CONTENT: Martin Mull on Fred Willard: “He was absolutely and unconditionally original”

Willard, who died in 2020 at age 86, and Mull worked together again in 1985 in the HBO mockumentary “The History of White People in America.” Mull played Roseanne’s gay boss Leon Carp on her ABC sitcom of the same name from 1991 to 1997 and reunited with Willard for a 1995 episode of the series in which the two appeared at one of the first gay weddings on television.

Mull was a regular as Ed Munn in Ellen De Generes’ sitcom The Ellen Show (not to be confused with the earlier series Ellen), which ran for 18 episodes on CBS from 2001 to 2002. From 1997 to 2000 he starred as Principal Willard Kraft in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

From 1998 to 2004, Mull was a regular on the 425-episode game show Hollywood Squares, many of them as the center square.

Martin Eugene Mull was born in Chicago to an actress and director mother and a carpenter father. When he was two, the family moved to North Ridgeville, Ohio; when he was 15, they moved to New Canaan, Connecticut. He studied painting and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in painting.

Mull entered show business not as an actor or comedian, but as a songwriter. In 1970, he wrote Jane Morgan’s country single “A Girl Named Johnny Cash,” which reached number 61 on Billboard’s country charts. Shortly thereafter, he began his own recording career.

He composed the theme song for the 1970 series “The 51st State” and was the music producer for the 1971 film “Jump”.

During the 1970s, and especially the first half of the decade, Mull was best known as a musical comedian, performing satirical and humorous songs both live and in studio recordings. In the early 1970s, he performed at various live shows as the opening act for Randy Newman, Frank Zappa and Bruce Springsteen.

His eponymous debut album, released in 1972, featured notable musicians including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Band’s Levon Helm, Keith Spring of NRBQ, and Libby Titus. Other albums included Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room (1974/73), Normal (1974), Days of Wine and Neuroses (1975), No Hits, Four Errors: The Best of Martin Mull (1977), Sex and Violins (1978), and I’m Everyone I’ve Ever Loved. According to a profile on the AV Club website, Mull “scored a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the single ‘Dueling Tubas.'” His early albums were recorded for the Georgia-based Capricorn Records label, which was closely associated with the Allman Brothers and other Southern rockers of the era.

In the AV Club interview, Mull was asked how a painter got into acting, to which he replied, “You know, every painter I know has a day job. They’re either teaching art at some college or driving a cab or whatever. And I was just lucky enough to get a day job that’s unusual and a lot of fun and can buy a lot of paint.”

“As far as acting goes, I had a touring musical career that I pursued for about 17 years, I had bands and so on, and ultimately it was just my wife and I playing in big rooms in Vegas, and that’s all you can ask for. There were limos and suites and all that stuff. But I was sick of it. So I thought I would try Write for television. And I had the chance to get an interview with Norman Lear, and I was a big fan of “Mary Hartman.” I went and talked to him, oh, I’d say a good hour. We had a great conversation. And afterward he said, ‘We don’t need any writers. It was nice meeting you. See you.’ And then six months later, I got a call asking to audition for a part.”

Following the attention he received for his role as Barth Gimble in the syndicated series Fernwood 2 Night, he played one of the few leading roles of his career in the 1980 feature comedy Serial, a satire of life in Marin County in which Mull’s Harvey Holyroyd, in the words of the Technicolor Dreams blog, “acts as the stand-in for the cheeky audience, verbally challenging every facet of the laid-back Marin lifestyle.”

Also in 1980, Mull played a supporting role in Tony Bill’s My Bodyguard as the father, who is the hotel manager of the protagonist Clifford, played by Chris Makepeace. In Mr. Mom (1983), Michael Keaton was the stay-at-home dad, Teri Garr the working mother, and Martin Mull “the devious advertising agency president who plans to promote Garr in his own life,” in the words of Roger Ebert.

In 1984, Steve Martin and Martin Mull co-created the sitcom Domestic Life, which starred Mull as a Seattle television commentator whose teenage son runs a highly successful business out of his bedroom and provides loans to his parents. The CBS series, however, only ran for 10 episodes.

The actor was part of the ensemble cast in Robert Altman’s satirical, little-known portrayal of the lives of high school boys, “The O.C. and Stiggs” (1985). That same year, Mull also played Colonel Mustard in “Clue,” an adaptation of the board game, one of the film roles for which he is best remembered.

He played the lead role and wrote the screenplay for another little-known film: “Rented Lips” (1988), directed by Robert Downey Sr.

Mull tried his hand at series television again, starring opposite Stephanie Faracy in NBC’s His & Hers, which was canceled in 1990 after 13 episodes, and in The Jackie Thomas Show (1992), which starred Tom Arnold and left ABC after 18 episodes.

The actor began his part-time work as a voice actor in 1993 with “Family Dog,” an early series by Brad Bird, in which he lent the lead voice.

Mull guest starred as himself in two episodes of Garry Shandling’s HBO series “The Larry Sanders Show” in 1992/93. He also had a supporting role in Robin Williams’ 1993 hit “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Mull trained as a painter and had been practicing his art since the 1970s. His work has been shown in both group and solo exhibitions. One of his paintings, After Dinner Drinks (2008), owned by Steve Martin, was used for the cover of Love Has Come for You, an album by Martin and Edie Brickell.

He is survived by his wife, the former Wendy Haas, an actress and composer whom he married in 1982, and his daughter Maggie, a television writer and producer.

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