It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Norman Lear, the writer-producer-developer who revolutionized American comedy with his groundbreaking sitcoms in the 1970s and beyond. Lear died on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes, according to his publicist. He was 101 years old.
Norman Lear was a pioneer of television comedy, creating shows that tackled the serious political, cultural and social issues of the day with humor, honesty and humanity. His shows were not afraid to challenge the status quo, to make viewers laugh and think, and to reflect the diversity and complexity of American society.
Norman Lear: A Pioneer of Television Comedy
Norman Lear’s most famous creation was “All in the Family”, a sitcom based on a British show, that followed the lives of a conservative, outspokenly bigoted working-class man named Archie Bunker and his fractious family in Queens. The show was an instant hit when it debuted in 1971, attracting viewers of all political persuasions and sparking lively debates across the nation. “All in the Family” also spawned six spin-offs, including “The Jeffersons”, “Maude” and “Good Times”.
Lear also created “Sanford and Son”, a sitcom based on a British show, that centered on a Los Angeles Black family running a junkyard business. The show was a huge ratings success, ranking No. 2 in the country behind “All in the Family”. Lear also produced “One Day at a Time”, a sitcom that featured a single mother of two young girls as its protagonist, a new concept for a sitcom at the time. Another innovative show by Lear was “Diff’rent Strokes”, a sitcom that followed the growing pains of two Black kids adopted by a wealthy white businessman.
Norman Lear also experimented with meta-comedy, creating shows that played with TV conventions and genres. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was a spoof of daytime soap operas that became a cult hit in syndication. “Fernwood 2 Night” was a parody talk show set in a small Ohio town, later retooled as “America 2-Night” with its setting relocated to Los Angeles.
Norman Lear’s shows won numerous awards and accolades, including two Peabody Awards. Lear himself was honored with the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Carol Burnett Award for Lifetime Achievement in Television.
Lear also had a successful career in film, writing and directing movies such as “Divorce American Style”, “The Night They Raided Minsky’s”, “The Thief Who Came to Dinner” and “Cold Turkey”. He also contributed financing to movies such as “Stand by Me”, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Princess Bride”.
Lear was a man of creativity, tenacity and empathy. He deeply loved his country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. He was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather, and a friend and mentor to many. He will be greatly missed by his family, his colleagues and his fans.
We thank Norman Lear for the moving outpouring of love and laughter he gave us through his amazing work. He was a comedy genius who changed TV forever. Rest in peace, Norman. You made the world a better place.