Carl Reiner, longtime comedy legend, dies at 98

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He was 98 years old.

"My dad passed away last night," wrote Rob Reiner. "As I write this my heart hurts. It was my guiding light."

His career spanned live television, Broadway, movies, album albums, and a variety of special appearances. He was a performer and writer on the legendary "Your Show of Shows". He created "The Dick Van Dyke Show", one of the greatest sitcoms in history, which was based on his life as a comedy writer.

Its reach was so extensive in Hollywood that tributes arrived on social media from several generations on Tuesday.

"His talent will live on for a long time, but the loss of his kindness and decency leaves a void in our hearts," wrote Alan Alda.

Reiner's continued routine with comedian and director Mel Brooks, "The 2000-Year-Old Man," which began in the 1950s, was immortalized on several comedy albums. The act, about a journalist interviewing a 2000-year-old man about life, is still memorized and repeated by comedians of the past and present, loved for their giddy humor, absurd twists, and obvious camaraderie between the couple.

But unlike Brooks, who was often the center of attention in whatever he was doing, Reiner preferred to play a straight man or work behind the scenes.

He had a hand in many scripts for "Dick Van Dyke Show" and occasionally appeared as a supporting character, grumpy TV presenter Alan Brady. He had a career as a film director with movies like "Oh my!" (1977) and "The Jerk" (1979).

Brooks praised him for his comic intelligence.

"The real driving force behind (& # 39; 2000 year old man) is Carl, not me. I'm just charging the fees," he told the A.V. Club. "People should know that he is the most important on the spot."

Reiner believed in spreading laughter, even if he was the butt of the joke, he wrote in his memoirs, "An Anecdotal Life".

"Inviting people to laugh with you while laughing at yourself is a good thing," he wrote. "You may be a fool but you are the fool in charge."

How it began

Reiner was often the "fool in charge" throughout his career, although few people would describe him as a fool. More like an innovator.

He was born in the Bronx on March 20, 1922. According to his autobiography, his father was a watchmaker, his mother a housewife, and young Reiner wanted to be an actor. The shy teenager got a needed boost when his older brother suggested joining a Depression-era acting class. At 17, Reiner was working regularly.

"Every week for a year, he did two shows at the Gilmore Theater. He was a very good actor, solid and serious. That is what he wanted to do," he told Moment magazine.

But serious and dramatic acting was not on the cards for Reiner. After joining the Army in 1942, he became a teletype operator in the Signal Corps. In 1943, he was assigned to an entertainment unit and ended up touring the South Pacific as a comedian.

Reiner became a comedian after the war and landed a role in a 1947 critique, "Call Me Mister."

The following year he came to Broadway on "Inside U.S.A.", and a year later he appeared on television on a show called "54th Street Revue." That show competed against "Admiral Broadway Revue," starring a rising comedian named Sid Caesar.

When Caesar received his own show in 1950, "Your Show of Shows," Reiner joined him.

Critics have widely praised "Your Show of Shows" for its adventurous comedy, written by excellent staff including Brooks, Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Joe Stein. Although he contributed to the writing, Reiner was primarily an actor, often portraying vendors and hosts.

He and Brooks, however, established a lifelong bond.

"We worked hard enough in the office and our wives became friends," she told Moment. Even after they both became widowers, they got together for dinner and conversation almost every night.

Somehow the two were opposites: Brooks, the clown, Reiner, the bewildered observer. But it was that combination that made the couple fun, Brooks told CNN.

"It is so real and so serious," he said. "And then he starts chasing me relentlessly and cornering me. And when he corners me, I'm like a trapped rat and I throw something crazy at him, and that blows him up."

& # 39; The Dick Van Dyke Show & # 39;

"Your Show of Shows" ran from 1950 to 54, and Reiner continued with Caesar in "The Hour of Caesar" between 1954 and 1957. After writing a novel, "Enter Laughing" from 1958, Reiner created his own program. The original version, "Head of the Family," starred Reiner as a comedy writer who travels to New York from his suburban family life. It didn't work, but producer Sheldon Leonard had an idea that saved him.

"(He said to me): 'We'll have a better actor to play him.' And he suggested Dick Van Dyke," Reiner told CBS News.
The result, renamed "The Dick Van Dyke Show", was a huge success, a well-crafted sitcom that offered an innovative insight into race, sex, and the John F. Kennedy era. It is ranked as one of the best television series of all time.

Reiner continued to branch out.

He had a major role in the 1966 movie, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming," in which he played a slow-burning playwright. The following year, he brought "Enter Laughing," Reiner's film directorial debut.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Reiner became a full-time film director. Four of his films were with Steve Martin: "The Jerk" (1979), "Dead Men Don & # 39; t Wear Plaid" (1982), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983) and "All of Me" (1984 ).

"He was like a father to me … although he wouldn't let me bathe," Martin recalled at an American Film Institute event for "The Jerk" in 2009.

Later years

In the 1990s, Reiner returned to acting, highlighting guest roles in "Frasier" and "Mad About You". In the 2000s, he starred in the films "Ocean & # 39; s Eleven" and in the television series "Two and a Half Men", among others.

He also became a prolific book writer.

In 2019, he spoke to NPR about how he spent his time writing and watching movies, with actress Emma Stone as one of his favorites.

"She just melts me," he said.

He was widely honored. He won multiple Emmy Awards, won a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was named an honorary member of the Directors Guild life. In 2000, he received the Mark Twain Award for American Humor.

But the biggest prize, he said, was his family. He and Estelle Reiner were married for almost 65 years; all of his sons followed him into the arts, and his son Rob became a remarkable actor and director.

"The show business is only from 8 to 12. And the rest is your family. You only do it to have a family and a house. Without a wife and children, the show business doesn't mean anything. You're doing it to make Make a living, but enjoy doing it and get paid for something you love to do, "he told the Boston Globe.

And to what did he owe his longevity? On the one hand, he kept his priorities in order.

"First thing in the morning, before I drink coffee, I read the obits," he told CBS News in 2015. "If I'm not in it, I'll have breakfast."

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