Harvey Korman was proud of his training at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where he performed Shakespeare, Shaw and Ibsen.
But the versatile actor and comedian will forever be known for raising the role of "second banana" into an art of the highest order, especially during his 10 years on "The Carol Burnett Show."
Korman died Thursday in Los Angeles of complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said. He was 81.
Korman, a native of Chicago, was a character actor from the beginning, playing the butler in a seventh-grade production of "Heidi." In high school, he was active in drama club and, after graduating, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. After the war, Korman returned to Chicago, where his high school drama teacher recommended him for further study at Goodman.
He gained his first extended TV exposure as a regular for four seasons on "The Danny Kaye Show" in the early '60s. His also did voice-over work on "Tom and Jerry" and as the Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones."
But he came into his own in 1967, when he joined Burnett's CBS variety show. He won four Emmys and a Golden Globe for his work and became famous for trying, and usually failing, to keep a straight face when confronted with the antics of frequent sketch partner Tim Conway.
"You learn to work fast," Korman once said, describing the art of sketch comedy. "Yet it has to have two elements: It has to have truth to it, and it has to be funny."
Burnett and Korman spoofed classic movies such as "Gone With the Wind" and soap operas such as "As the World Turns," which they dubbed "As the Stomach Turns." They also teamed up as Ed and Eunice, a bickering married couple who were at odds with the wife's mother (Vicki Lawrence).
Although he never found the same success on TV once he left "Burnett" in 1977, Korman worked steadily in a number of TV series. He hosted "The Harvey Korman Show" in 1978 and was a regular on "The Tim Conway Show" in 1980-81. In the mid-'80s, he reprised his "Burnett" Ed role in the NBC comedy "Mama's Family."
Korman was a favorite of Mel Brooks and worked with the director in four films, including his memorable turn as the leering Hedley Lamarr in 1974's "Blazing Saddles."
His other film credits include 1979's "Americathon" and 1982's "The Trail of the Pink Panther."
"It takes a certain type of person to be a television star," he said in an interview in 2005. "I didn't have whatever that is. I come across as kind of snobbish and maybe a little too bright.
"Give me something bizarre to play or put me in a dress and I'm fine."