Renowned Television Icon Norman Lear Passes Away at Age 101

Renowned Television Icon Norman Lear Passes Away at Age 101:

Norman Lear Passes Away at Age 101

Norman Lear, the trailblazing writer-producer behind groundbreaking ’70s sitcoms like “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son,” passed away on Tuesday at the age of 101 at his Los Angeles residence due to natural causes. His publicist confirmed the news to Variety. A private service will soon be held exclusively for immediate family members.

Lear’s family expressed gratitude for the overwhelming love and support received, acknowledging him as a cherished husband, father, and grandfather. In their statement, they highlighted Lear’s life marked by creativity, determination, and compassion. He held a profound love for the country and dedicated his lifetime to upholding its foundational values of fairness and equality for all. Remembering and adoring him remains their most cherished blessing. During this time, they ask for understanding as they commemorate his remarkable life in private mourning.

Lear had solidified his reputation as a leading comedy writer, earning a 1968 Oscar nomination for his screenplay of “Divorce American Style.” During this time, he conceived a new sitcom inspired by a beloved British series, centered around a conservative, openly bigoted working-class man and his lively family from Queens. “All in the Family” swiftly became a resounding success, appealing to audiences across diverse political beliefs.

Lear’s groundbreaking shows were pioneers in tackling pressing political, cultural, and social issues of their time—addressing racism, abortion, homosexuality, and the Vietnam War. He infused these contentious topics into the traditional domestic comedy format, introducing pointedly innovative angles. No subject was off-limits: For instance, in 1977, two episodes of “All in the Family” centered around the harrowing attempted assault on Archie Bunker’s wife, Edith.

Their bold, boundary-pushing approach translated into massive ratings triumphs: “Family” and “Sanford,” centered around a Black family in Los Angeles, soared to the top two spots in the country for a while. “All in the Family” alone spawned an impressive six spin-offs. Notably, “Family” received esteemed recognition with four Emmys from 1971 to 1973, and in 1977, Lear earned a Peabody Award for delivering comedy intertwined with a social conscience. This honor was followed by another Peabody in 2016, celebrating his outstanding career achievements.

Lear’s inventive approach extended to bending TV norms. “One Day at a Time” (1975-84) broke ground by spotlighting a single mother raising two young girls, a fresh and novel concept for a sitcom at that time. Similarly, “Diff’rent Strokes” (1978-86) delved into the experiences and challenges of two Black kids adopted by a prosperous white businessman, exploring themes of family and diversity in a distinctive way.

Lear’s repertoire included series that embodied a sense of meta before the term became commonplace. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” (1976-77) hilariously lampooned the convoluted drama typical of daytime soap operas. Despite its initial struggle to secure a network slot, the show gained a devoted following through syndication, becoming a beloved and eccentric offbeat series. “Hartman” even birthed its own quirky spinoff, “Fernwood 2 Night,” a satirical talk show set in a small Ohio town. Later, it underwent a transformation into “America 2-Night,” relocating its setting from Ohio to Los Angeles.

Lear consistently emphasized that the fundamental principle behind his comedies revolved around one core aspect: ensuring laughter.

In a 2005 interview with The Onion A.V. Club, he highlighted this by stating, “From the start, our goal with all the shows was to elicit belly laughs. We realized early on, while working in front of an audience of about 240 live people, that the more the audience cared about the characters, the more intense their laughter became.”

Lear’s contributions extended beyond television to the big screen, where he showcased his talents through various scripts, including “Come Blow Your Horn” (1963), “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” (1968), and “The Thief Who Came to Dinner” (1971). He also supported financially the production of “Stand by Me” (1986), directed by his former “All in the Family” co-star, Rob Reiner. Additionally, Lear held executive producer credits for “Fried Green Tomatoes” and Reiner’s “The Princess Bride.”

Notably, he wrote and directed the sharp-witted 1971 comedy addressing the tobacco industry, titled “Cold Turkey.”

In the 1980s, Lear, along with partner Jerry Perenchio, acquired Avco Embassy Pictures. They later sold the company to Columbia Pictures for a substantial $250 million. Furthermore, Lear made significant strides in the music industry through the 1999 acquisition, alongside former Embassy executive Hal Gaba, of Concord Music Group. Concord Music Group stood as one of the largest independent label operations globally, boasting ownership of esteemed catalogs from various indie labels like Concord Jazz, Fantasy, Stax, Riverside, Milestone, Rounder, and Vanguard.

Lear, a prominent figure in Hollywood known for his vocal liberal stance and dedication to progressive philanthropy, established the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1981, aiming to counteract the conservative Moral Majority’s activities.

His influential contributions to the entertainment industry were duly recognized, earning him a place in the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame, a lifetime achievement award from the Producers Guild of America, and multiple accolades from the Writers Guild of America. Notably, he was honored with the National Medal of Arts in 1999 and celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2017.

During the Kennedy Center Honors, Lear took a principled stand against President Donald Trump’s policies, expressing his dissent by threatening to boycott a reception. Ultimately, Trump chose not to attend the event, prompting Lear to share with Variety, “I’m content not to go to the White House.”

Lear entered the world in New Haven, Conn., on July 27, 1922. Raised by Russian Jewish parents, he often shared in interviews that his father and mother served as the real-life inspirations behind the iconic characters of Archie and Edith Bunker.

In 1942, he interrupted his studies at Boston’s Emerson College to join the U.S. Air Force. During World War II, Lear served as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 bombers, completing an impressive 52 missions in the European theater.

Post-war, Lear initially pursued a career as a press agent before transitioning into comedy writing. His partnership with Ed Simmons, his cousin’s husband, marked his foray into the field. Their breakthrough came while writing for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the leading comedy duo of the time, during their appearances on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” in 1952-53. Collaborating with Bud Yorkin, Lear became sought after as a writer for various variety shows featuring personalities like Martha Raye, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Celeste Holm, and George Gobel.

During the 1960s, Lear amassed writing and production credits, teaming up with his Tandem Productions partner, Bud Yorkin, to create specials featuring renowned personalities like Bobby Darin, Danny Kaye, Andy Williams, and Henry Fonda. Notably, Lear was involved with “The Deputy,” a Western series where Fonda starred, and which Lear had a hand in creating.

Although Lear had scattered involvements in theatrical films in the late ’60s, his prominence as a TV producer skyrocketed with Tandem’s development of “All in the Family.” The show drew inspiration from the sharp-tongued, enduring British series “Till Death Do Us Part.” Originally picked up by ABC, the network grew apprehensive about its content and dropped it. However, CBS saw its potential and picked it up, marking a significant milestone as the first U.S. sitcom filmed in front of a live audience.

The vibrant new series, buoyed by the remarkable chemistry among its four stars, quickly became a sensational hit. Carroll O’Connor brilliantly portrayed the conservative, bigoted, yet candidly outspoken Archie, while Jean Stapleton brought warmth and charm to the role of his ditzy but kind-hearted wife, Edith. Sally Struthers portrayed their strong-willed daughter, Gloria, and Rob Reiner, known as Gloria’s hippie husband Michael “Meathead” Stivic, rounded out the quartet.

Over its run, the show garnered an impressive 22 Emmys, with O’Connor claiming four, Stapleton three, Reiner two, and Struthers one. In 2019, an ABC special exploring the series and its spinoff “The Jeffersons,” executive produced by Lear, received an Emmy.

The success of “All in the Family” led to a slew of spinoffs, forming a veritable television franchise. These included “Maude,” featuring Bea Arthur as Edith’s spirited and sharp-tongued cousin (reportedly inspired by Lear’s second wife, Frances); “The Jeffersons,” starring Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford as the Bunkers’ former African American neighbors; “Gloria,” where Struthers reprised her role following the character’s divorce; “Checking In,” spotlighting Marla Gibbs as Florence Johnston, the former maid of the Jeffersons; and the ‘90s series “704 Hauser,” which, despite a tepid reception, was set in the Bunkers’ old house. Additionally, “Archie Bunker’s Place,” essentially a spinoff of itself set in Archie’s Queens bar, aired from 1979 to 1983.

Bud Yorkin took the lead on another Tandem show, adapted from a U.K. TV series called “Steptoe and Son,” which he had previously turned into a TV movie in 1965. This venture resulted in “Sanford and Son,” a series that revolved around the cantankerous and explosive Los Angeles junkman Fred Sanford, played by veteran Black comic Redd Foxx, and his patient son, Lamont, portrayed by Demond Wilson. Foxx’s sharp and poignant portrayal, akin to Bunker-style bigotry, resonated strongly with audiences, contributing to the show’s successful six-season run.

Following the split of the Tandem partnership in 1975, Lear embarked on yet another groundbreaking project: “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” This daily show with an ongoing narrative, reminiscent of daytime network soaps, starred Louise Lasser in the central role. Mary Hartman served as the linchpin in the darkly humorous small-town dramas of Fernwood. Both “Hartman” and its subsequent series, “Forever Fernwood,” collectively aired for over 400 episodes. The franchise also spawned the satirical talk show “Fernwood 2 Night,” featuring Martin Mull reprising his role from “Hartman” as host Barth Gimble, with Fred Willard as his sidekick, Jerry Hubbard.

Norman Lear, despite the groundbreaking impact of “All in the Family” and its subsequent series, held a more tempered perspective on the show’s overall influence.

Reflecting on its legacy, he expressed a more reserved viewpoint: “I didn’t perceive it as changing television in any significant way. We had a long-standing Judeo-Christian ethic for thousands of years that didn’t manage to eradicate racism. So, the idea that a half-hour comedy could significantly alter things is, in my opinion, somewhat unrealistic.”

Norman Lear’s later career saw the creation of sitcoms like “Sunday Dinner” and “704 Hauser,” both of which had short runs in the early ’90s. He was also credited as an executive producer for the reboot of “One Day at a Time,” a series set in L.A.’s Echo Park, highlighting a Latino family. This iteration aired from 2017 to 2020.

During this phase, Lear delved into film projects, including “Way Past Cool” (2000) and “El Superstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Frances” (2008). He also contributed to documentary productions such as “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” (2007).

A documentary titled “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” released in 2016, provided an overview of his extensive career. In his later years, Lear hosted a podcast called “All of the Above With Norman Lear” and penned his memoir, “Even This I Get to Experience,” published in 2014. Additionally, he served as an executive producer for the documentary “Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It.”

Apart from his involvement with People for the American Way, a non-profit focusing on judicial appointments, First Amendment challenges, and right-wing group activities, Lear established Declare Yourself in 2004. This nonpartisan organization aimed to encourage youth participation in voting.

Norman Lear is survived by his third wife, Lyn Davis, along with six children and four grandchildren.

Read More About Norman Lear– Wikipedia
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