Celebrity News

Comedy Legend Carl Reiner Dead at 98

Comedy Legend Carl Reiner Dead at 98
Getty Images

Carl Reiner, who had been one of the most important living links to early television — and one of Hollywood's most prolific talents — died Monday at 98.

TMZ reports that Reiner died of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home, and that his family was with him at the time of his death.

Stars We Lost in 2020 View Photos

Iconic as Alan Brady, the fictional star of the fictional show within the classic sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Reiner was one of comedy's most multifaceted figures, distinguishing himself as a performer, writer, director, and producer. At the end of his life, he continued to act and was a strong and outspoken presence on social media. On Twitter the day he died, he posted his displeasure with Donald Trump, his regrets about Hillary Clinton, and three tweets praising the late Noel Coward, including recalling Coward begging the parent of "a marginally talented child, 'Please, Mrs. Worthington, don't put your daughter on the stage.'"

Less than 48 hours before he died, Reiner tweeted, "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 to this needy & evolving world."

On the occasion of his close friend Mel Brooks's 94th birthday the day before Reiner died, he posed — along with his daughter Annie Reiner and Brooks — wearing matching Black Lives Matter T-shirts for an image posted on social media.

Born in the Bronx, New York, on March 20, 1922, Reiner was directed into show biz by his older brother Charlie, who called his attention to a WPA program offering free drama instruction. During his service in WWII, Reiner became more attracted to performing, eventually joining the Special Services as an entertainer. His experience attempting to get a rise out of soldiers scarred by battle made him adept at getting a laugh when the laughs were not near the surface.

After the War, he made his Broadway debut in the revue "Inside U.S.A." (1948) and got his start in TV when he was cast in Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" (1950-1954) in 1950. Reiner proved his ability to sell a skit as well as to collaborate with fellow titanic talents Mel Brooks and Neil Simon, and worked with more future icons on "Caesar's Hour" (1954-1957), including Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen.

His understanding of the medium that he absorbed working on Caesar's shows (an experience he referred to as his "college") resulted in 11 career Emmy wins and one honorary Emmy. Reiner's last Emmy nomination was in 2018, making him the oldest nominee in history.

In the '60s, Reiner and his writing partner Brooks performed as a duo on "The Steve Allen Show" and elsewhere, most famously as the creators of the "2000 Year Old Man" sketch that became a series of albums (one of which won a Grammy) and an animated TV special.

carl reiner mel brooks GettyImages-140627609
Getty Images
The sketches showed off Reiner's (L, with Brooks) abilities as a comedic straight man, and as a master at improv.

Perhaps Reiner's most famous contribution to TV history was "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-1966), which he had created in 1959 as a vehicle for himself, but which was picked up with Van Dyke as the star. On the show, Reiner played a tempestuous TV performer in what is considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.

Van Dyke paid homage to Reiner on Twitter, writing:

As an actor, he was usually a riotous exaggeration of himself. He appeared in "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" (1961), "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming" (1966), "The End" (1978), and, memorably, in a key role in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" and its 2007 sequel "Ocean's Thirteen." He made countless guest spots on TV, starting with 1948's "The Fashion Show" and encompassing some of the most successful series of all time, including "That Girl" (1969), "The Carol Burnett Show" (1974), "Frasier" (1993), "Mad About You" (1995), "Ally McBeal" (2002), "The Bernie Mac Show" (2002-2005), "Parks and Recreation" (2012), "Two and a Half Men" (2009-2014), and as a love interest for Betty White on multiple episodes of "Hot in Cleveland" (2010-2014).

A visit from Reiner was an anointing that a show knew how to bring the funny.

In 1963, Reiner's novel "Enter Laughing" was adapted into a Broadway play by Joseph Stein. Reiner made his directing debut with the 1967 film version, and had success with a number of other films he directed, including the cult classic "Where's Poppa?" (1970); "Oh, God!" (1977) starring George Burns; the Steve Martin films "The Jerk" (1979), "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983), and "All of Me" (1984). The last film he directed was 1997's Bette Midler vehicle "That Old Feeling."

As a writer, he contributed to such diverse projects as the Doris Day starrer "The Thrill of It All" (1963), the animated classic "Free to Be... You & Me" (1974), and a 2011 episode of "The Cleveland Show," on which he voiced crotchety Murray. His other voice contributions include the voice of God in "History of the World: Part 1" (1981) and stints on such series as "King of the Hill" (1997 & 2000), "Father of the Pride" (2004-2005), "Bob's Burgers" (2014), "American Dad!" (2015), and "Family Guy" (2016 & 2017), and as Carl Reineroceros in "Toy Story 4" (2019).

No slouch, he also wrote several books, including the memoir "Carl Reiner, Now That You're 94" four years ago, an illustrated memoir about what it's like to be very, very old — not 2,000 years old, but close.

Reiner was wed to his wife Estelle — who uttered the immortal line "I'll have what she's having" in their son Rob Reiner's movie "When Harry Met Sally" (1989) — from 1943 until her death in 2008. He is survived by their children Rob, a famous performer and director in his own right; Annie, an author and performer who Reiner dubbed "the World's Greatest Singing Psychoanalyst"; and Lucas, an artist. He is also survived by five grandchildren.

Celebrities have been expressing their admiration for Reiner on social media at the news of his passing.

Joy Behar, who helped pay tribute to Reiner when he received the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in 2000, tweeted, "We have lost the great Carl Reiner. My condolences to his family. He is irreplaceable."

Director Ron Howard offered, "RIP #Carl Reiner - A brilliant comedy talent w/heart & intellect whether writing, directing, producing or performing. Try estimating how many times in your life this fella’s work made you laugh. I count well over 3k for me & growing. Thank you, Carl."

Bernadette Peters praised Reiner for his pinned tweet about displaced migrant children, writing, "Dearest Carl this was your last tweet always always caring til the end. We shall miss you very much."

Mia Farrow tweeted, "We lost a person who gave us great times-countless laughs. He was brilliant. And kind. I met him only once but will never forget his gentle thoughtfulness. He was with us through good times and hard times. Thank you Carl Reiner. His memory will be a blessing. ."

Josh Gad wrote, "As if 2020 weren’t cruel enough. Goodbye to one of the greatest comedic minds of all time. Thank you for always making us laugh and for always giving us joy. My deepest condolences go out to the entire Reiner family. RIP #CarlReiner."

Fellow comic Sarah Silverman tweeted, "So sad to hear about @carlreiner Not only did he make my favorite TV& movies (see:Where’s Poppa) but his humanity was beyond compare. His heart was so full of love. Never left his house empty handed- book, space pen, Swiss Army knife. RIP to a man that embodies the word mensch."

Jane Lynch expressed a sentiment many shared, tweeting, "I really thought this would never happen. #ripCarlReiner."