LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hal Goldman, an Emmy-winning writer who provided punch lines for Jack Benny and George Burns, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 81.

The joke writer got his start in Hollywood after World War II, writing radio scripts for actor Eddie Cantor.

He began working with Al Gordon and the two heard Benny was in need of some material for Rochester the valet on his radio show. The two men quickly wrote lines for the part and Benny was impressed enough to bring Goldman and Gordon aboard.

Joined by two other writers, the team followed Benny when he crossed over to television and remained with him until the show was canceled in 1965. Goldman continued writing for Benny's TV specials until the star died in 1974.

While on Benny's show, Goldman won two Emmys in 1958 and 1959 in the Best Comedy Series category. He also won a third in 1966 for his material on a Carol Channing special. He was nominated for 10 Emmys during his career.

After Benny died, Goldman worked with Carol Burnett, Dean Martin and Billy Crystal.

Goldman also struck a friendship with comedy icon George Burns. Goldman worked on a slew of Burns projects beginning in 1979, including the screenplay for ``Oh, God, Book II,'' several of Burns' books and various TV shows.

Lucille G. Murchison

DALLAS (AP) _ Arts patron and former Dallas Cowboys co-owner Lucille G. ``Lupe'' Murchison died Tuesday of cancer. She was 75.

Lupe Murchison shared ownership of the Cowboys with her brother-in-law Clint Murchison Jr. after the death of her husband, John Murchison, in 1979 until the team was sold to H.R. ``Bum'' Bright in 1984.

She served three terms as a regent for the University of North Texas. UNT named its Performing Arts Center, which opened in February 1999, after Murchison to honor her years of support.

She was first appointed to the Board of Regents in 1981 by then-Gov. Bill Clements, who reappointed her for another six-year term in 1987. In 1993, then-Gov. Ann Richards appointed her to a third term, which expired in May 1999.

She also served on boards of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., and was an honorary consul general of Nepal from 1982 to 1990.

Roy Nichols

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) _ Country guitar player Roy Nichols, who played in Merle Haggard's band for 22 years and helped create the Bakersfield Sound, died Tuesday after being hospitalized with kidney inflammation and a bacterial infection. He was 68.

Nichols began recording with Haggard's band The Strangers in 1963 and played with some of country music's biggest names from the time he was 16 years old.

``A lot of people may or may not know that he played for Johnny Cash on 'Tennessee Flat Top Box,' the original version, and also on 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes,''' Haggard told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Haggard credits Nichols with jump-starting his own career and playing a key role in developing The Stranger's distinctive sound.

Rich Pirone

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) _ Babe Ruth's grandson Rich Pirone, who relatives say bore a remarkable resemblance to the Sultan of Swat, died Monday of a stroke. He was 51.

Pirone's mother was Dorothy Ruth Pirone, Babe Ruth's daughter.

Pirone was a Yankees fan who played baseball as a youth. He worked at his father's business, Sweed's Auto Wrecking Inc., before retiring. He signed autographs at select appearances.

Pirone never met his grandfather _ he was born in 1950, two years after Babe Ruth died.

Babe Ruth is most famous for his home runs. His 714 career home runs stood as the Major League record until Hank Aaron eclipsed the mark in 1974.

Mordecai Richler

TORONTO (AP) _ Mordecai Richler, a Canadian writer known for novels on Jewish life in Montreal and acerbic social commentary, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 70.

In essays, articles and novels such as ``The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz'' and ``Barney's Version,'' Richler examined the culture and characters of his upbringing and attacked anyone or anything that smacked of pretentiousness.

He infuriated the Quebec nationalist movement with commentary about the separatist aspirations of successive provincial leaders in the 1990s. In 1992, a Quebec politician tried to ban his book ``Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!,'' which criticized the province's French language policies.

``Barney's Version'' won the Giller Prize for Canadian literature in 1997 and two others _ ``St. Urbain's Horseman'' and ``Solomon Gursky was Here'' _ were shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

``The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz'' was made into a film with Richard Dreyfuss in the lead role.

Richler's latest book, ``On Snooker,'' was published in May.

Richler was named to the Order of Canada and won two prestigious literary awards, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor.

Johnny Russell

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell, whose song ``Act Naturally'' was recorded by Buck Owens and the Beatles, died Tuesday of leukemia, diabetes and other ailments. He was 61.

Russell once said that it took him two years to get someone to record ``Act Naturally,'' co-written with Voni Morrison.

When Owens recorded a version in 1963, it went to No. 1 on the country charts. Two years later, it was recorded by the Beatles, with Ringo Starr singing the vocal. In 1989, Starr and Owens recorded a duet of the song that was nominated for Grammy and Country Music Association awards.

Russell's own recording career took off in the 1970s. His biggest hit was the working class anthem ``Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,'' which went to No. 4 in 1973 and was nominated for a Grammy.

Russell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1985, and over the years became its regular closing act. A jolly, 275-pound man, he would joke to audiences in his opening line: ``Can everybody see me all right?''

Russell also wrote the No. 1 hit ``Let's Fall to Pieces Together,'' recorded in 1984 by George Strait, and ``Making Plans,'' which was recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on their ``Trio'' album in 1987.

Kenneth D. Smith

RICHMOND, Va., (AP) _ Kenneth D. Smith, a conservative commentator and deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Times, died Tuesday of liver cancer at his home in Alexandria. He was 44.

Smith spent his entire career in the newspaper business, starting as a part-time reporter for the Lexington News-Gazette while studying at Washington and Lee University. He graduated in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in English literature.

He then joined the Danville Register in 1980 as a feature writer, but soon found his niche as an editorial writer.

In 1984, Smith joined the editorial staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Five years later, he left for the Washington Times.

An editorial Smith wrote was honored with the 2001 Mark Twain Award from the Chesapeake News Association, and in 2000 he received the Dateline Award from the Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

He is survived by two brothers, a sister-in-law and two nieces. A funeral will be private.