December 25, 1995
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EST
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Dean Martin, the laid-back crooner, comedian and actor, died Monday. His agent said he died of acute respiratory failure. He was 78.
Though best known for the 51 films he made, Martin was a prize-fighter, steel mill laborer, gas station attendant and card shark before seeing the first glimmer of fame. It came when he teamed up with comedian Jerry Lewis in 1946. Films such as "At War with the Army" sent the team toward superstardom.
After teaming with Lewis, Martin, born Dino Paul Crocetti, became a dramatic actor and the star of a long-running television variety show.
Personality conflicts broke up the comedy duo in 1957. Few thought that Martin would go one to achieve solo success, but he did, winning critical acclaim for his role in "The Young Lions" with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift.
A succession of films followed for the singer-actor, including "Some Came Running" with Shirley Maclaine and Frank Sinatra. All would later be members of the "Rat Pack."
Martin learned well and proved potent at the box office throughout the '60s with films such as "Bells are Ringing" and "Robin and the Seven Hoods," again with Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr. and Sinatra.
During much of the '60s and '70s Martin's movie persona of a boozing playboy prompted a series of films as secret agent Matt Helm and his own television variety show. "Airport" followed, featuring Martin as a pilot. He also played a phony priest in "Cannonball Run".
Martin's last public role was a return to the stage, for a cross-country concert tour with Davis and Sinatra. He spoke affectionately of his fellow Rat Packers. "The satisfaction that I get out of working with these two bums is that we have more laughs than the audience has," Martin said. (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)
AP contributed to this report
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