Carl Reiner, the comedian, writer, director and actor whose contributions to the development of television comedy are rivaled by few others, died Monday night of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 98.
Just three days before his passing, Reiner — the father of actor and director Rob Reiner — tweeted what now seems his public goodbye: “Nothing pleases me more than knowing that I have lived the best life possible by having met & marrying the gifted Estelle (Stella) Lebost – who partnered with me in bringing Rob, Annie & Lucas Reiner into this needy & evolving world.”
Reiner was among the pioneering comedic minds — along with Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, among others, who, in the 1950s, co-wrote and appeared on the Sid Caesar programs Caesar’s Hour and Your Show of Shows, setting the template for sketch comedy that endures today in Saturday Night Live and late-night talk show humor.
Inspired by his experiences as a comedy writer for the often-difficult Caesar, Reiner created — and produced and wrote — The Dick Van Dyke Show, an unusually smart and sophisticated sitcom that paired Van Dyke, as Rob Petrie, the Reiner stand-in, and a newcomer named Mary Tyler Moore as his wife Laura. Reiner himself played the Caesar-like boss Alan Brady.
“I knew we were doing something very good,” Reiner said in a 1998 sit-diwn for the TV Academy Foundation’s The Interviews series. “When writers would come to work for me, I’d read their scripts, they would be full of slang and I’d tell them, ‘fellas, don’t use slang of the day. In reruns, five years down the line, we don’t want to hear somebody say, ‘he took out his gat.'”
The Dick Van Dyke Show won five of the nine Emmy Awards that Reiner would gather over his career and ranked No. 14 on the WGA’s list of 101 Best Written TV Series. His other Emmy wins included two Supporting Actor trophies for Caesar’s Hour, a 1967 writing Emmy for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, and a 1995 guest actor win for Mad About You. His comedy album with Brooks, The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, won a 1998 Grammy.
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Reiner’s comedic reach embraced film as well as TV, particularly in the 1970s and ’80, when he directed a string of hit movies that included 1977’s Oh, God!, with George Burns as the title character, and 1979’s The Jerk, which gave Steve Martin his high-profile starring debut after the comic had hit it big with comedy LPs and hosting Saturday Night Live. The teaming with Martin would prove particularly fruitful, as the two would reteam on 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, 1983’s The Man with Two Brains and, in 1984, All of Me, which paired Martin and Lily Tomlin.
Reiner’s acting career was even longer-lived than his directing: Just last year, he voiced the character Carl Reineroceros in Toy Story 4, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Since 2000, he has appeared in TV and film projects including Ally McBeal, Parks and Recreation, Two and a Half Men, Hot in Cleveland, and Bob’s Burgers. Also within that time, he co-starred in three Ocean’s Eleven films.
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Reiner was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in 2000. He also wrote several books, including the 2004 memoir My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir.
Reiner’s death was confirmed by his assistant Judy Nagy to Deadline’s sister publication Variety.
Born and raised in New York City, Reiner found an early comedic soulmate during his time on Your Show of Shows, when he wrote with Mel Brooks. Among many other sketches and routines the two would create was the wildly popular 2000-year-old man, which featured Brooks as the shtick-riffing ancient and Reiner playing straight man by feeding Brooks questions in the guise of a TV interview. They were Grammy-nominated in 1961 for The 2,000 Year Old Man and again in 1964 for Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival and would win Best Comedy Album for their 1999 redux The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000. The two would return to the bit on TV talk and variety shows for decades.
Reiner wed singer Estelle Lebost in 1943, beginning a 65-year marriage that ended with her death in 2008. She made a memorable appearance in Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… as the woman in the diner who witnesses Meg Ryan’s “acting talents” and tells the waitress, “I’ll have wha she’s having.”
Reiner is survived by sons Rob and Lucas, and daughter Sylvia Anne.
Immediately following his June 27 tweet about his love and appreciation for his wife and children, Reiner tweeted about Brooks, “By changing a few words & names pal Mel could send out a very similar tweet.”
Never one to hold back on his political opinions, Reiner later tweeted, “As I arose at 7:30 this morning, I was saddened to relive the day that led up to the election of a bankrupted and corrupt businessman who had no qualifications to be the leader of any country in the civilized world…”
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