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Comedy and TV Legend Norman Lear Passes at 101

Known for his early ‘70s sitcoms, including ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Sanford and Son,’ the famed creative contributed his talents to numerous hit shows and films, both live-action and animated, until his last days. 

The illustrious comedy legend Norman Lear, who wore many hats throughout his career including writer, producer, and developer, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 101. Known for his early ‘70s sitcoms All in the Family and Sanford and Son, the late creative contributed his talents to numerous hit shows and films consistently up until his death.

Lear died at his Los Angeles home of natural causes, his publicist confirmed to Variety.

“Thank you for the moving outpouring of love and support in honor of our wonderful husband, father, and grandfather,” Lear’s family said in a statement. “Norman lived a life of creativity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. Knowing and loving him has been the greatest of gifts. We ask for your understanding as we mourn privately in celebration of this remarkable human being.”

Born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 27, 1922, Lear, after flying 52 missions for the U.S. Air Force, pursued a career as a press agent before swiftly moving into comedy writing. His big break came from material he created for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis during a run of 1952-53 appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour.

While comedic at their core, Lear’s shows were the very first to integrate political, cultural, and social matters and commentary, creating an entirely new formula. Nothing was off-limits, including the topics of rape, racism, homosexuality, and more. Both All in the Family and Sanford and Son became huge ratings successes in part due to their “outrageous” content.

Also breaking the conventional television mold of the era were his series One Day at a Time, which followed a single mother and her two children, and Diff’rent Strokes, which centered on Black children adopted by a white businessman.

He said in a 2005 Onion A.V. Club interview, “Originally, with all the shows, we went looking for belly laughs. It crossed our minds early on that the more an audience cared – we were working before, on average, 240 live people – if you could get them caring, the more they cared, the harder they laughed.”

Far from “just” a television writer, Lear executive produced the timeless classics The Princess Bride and Fried Green Tomatoes. He also boasted credits on multiple animated projects, including Man of the House at Nick; Til the Fat Lady Sings; and collaborations with the team at South Park; and most recently, an animated adaptation of his series Good Times.

He is survived by wife Lyn Davis, his six children, four grandchildren, and his motto, “Keep ‘em laughing.”


Editor's note - we previously referred to Lear having written Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, and Fried Green Tomatoes in error. He was an executive producer on The Princess Bride and Fried Green Tomato, and provided financing for Stand By Me after the project was canceled days before shooting began. 

Laurén Alexa's picture

Cybersecurity specialist by day, investigative journalist by night.