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'Heartbroken': Carol Burnett reacts to death of former co-star Tim Conway

The comedian and actor died Tuesday at the age of 85.
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/ Source: TODAY

It was always hard to keep a straight face around Tim Conway.

The comedian and actor, best known for his work on "The Carol Burnett Show" in the 1970s, died Tuesday at the age of 85 following a long illness, his rep confirmed to TODAY.

But even as we mourn his loss, it's impossible not to reflect back on the ways he made everybody laugh, including audiences and his fellow comedians.

2005 TV Land Awards - Show
Conway reunited with his "Carol Burnett Show" co-stars at the 2005 TV Land Awards. Vince Bucci / Getty Images

"I'm heartbroken," Burnett told TODAY in a statement. "He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He'll be in my heart forever."

Burnett wasn't the only one mourning the loss of Conway. TODAY's Al Roker chimed in on Twitter, where he recalled Conway's legendary dentist sketch.

A number of big names from the entertainment world also took to social media to pay tribute.

Burnett once noted that "Tim's goal in life was to destroy ('Carol Burnett Show' co-star) Harvey Korman," as she told a crowd that had assembled at a 2013 event highlighting Conway's memoir, "What's So Funny? My Hilarious Life," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.

"Harvey never saw what I was going to do until he was actually doing the sketch," Conway echoed to the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "As a matter of fact, in the dentist sketch you can actually see Harvey wet his pants from laughing."

Born in Ohio in 1933, Conway got an early start in both television and comedy, writing skits that appeared during the intermission period when a movie aired, and he even recorded a comedy album with voice announcer and host Ernie Anderson. The pair honed their chops on local Cleveland TV; Conway moved up the ladder after meeting "The Dick Van Dyke Show" actress Rose Marie, who helped him land a job on "The Steve Allen Show."

From there, he went on to national recognition as the inept, naive Ensign Charles Parker in the 1960s sitcom "McHale's Navy," on which he starred opposite Ernest Borgnine. He also could draw on direct military experience for the part: Conway served in the Army from 1956-58.

Image: Actor Ernest Borgnine is shown in this undated publicity photograph from the popular 1960's television series "McHale's Navy" along with co-stars Tim Conway and Joe Flynn.
Conway (left) with Ernest Borgnine (center) in "McHale's Navy" alongside Joe Flynn.Reuters

Quickly, Hollywood learned that Conway was at his most competent as a comedian when playing a complete incompetent, and often his shows and roles had a Western twist, including a bumbling Texas Ranger in "Rango" (1967) and opposite Don Knotts in Disney family films like "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975).

Conway with Don Knotts in this photo from "The Apple Dumpling Gang."
Conway with Don Knotts in this photo from "The Apple Dumpling Gang."AP

Though Conway briefly had his own show in 1970, he ultimately found his best spotlight on "Carol Burnett." He'd been a guest in the show's first eight seasons, then became a regular starting in 1975. He won four Emmy Awards during his time on the show, on which he famous played roles such as the incredibly slow The Oldest Man, the easily frustrated businessman Mr. Tudball, and any number of one-off goofballs like the dentist who manages to shoot himself up with novocaine — eliciting one of Korman's most memorable moments, too.

CAROL BURNETT SHOW, 1967-1979, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway
Conway with Carol Burnett on "The Carol Burnett Show."Everett Collection

There was something about Conway's humor that was both meticulous and a throwback to vaudeville. He had enormous patience and felt no need to rush to get a laugh, as his shuffling Old Man characters revealed. Plus, he could get away with no dialogue at all (once he played Simba, a lion raised in captivity released into the wild) and as Mickey, part of the recurring "Mama's Family" sketch where he ad-libbed (mostly) a story about a circus elephant.

In more recent years Conway gained new fans with his work on series such as "SpongeBob Squarepants," on which he voiced Barnacle Boy, and "30 Rock."

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