Comedian, actor, writer and director Carl Reiner—an American comedy legend—passed away of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home on Monday night. The news was confirmed on Twitter by his son, noted film-maker Rob Reiner. He is best known for his double act with Mel Brooks, especially on the 2000 Year Old Man comedy albums, where Reiner would play the straight man interviewing Brooks’ two millennia old character. He also created and co-wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show, based on his own life, which won 15 Emmy Awards over its five season run in the 1960s, and is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
Reiner would go on to write a number of books, with his first semi-autobiographical novel Enter Laughing becoming a hit Broadway play as well as his first feature film as a director. He would go on to direct some of the 20th century’s most beloved comedy films, including a number of early Steve Martin movies. As an actor, he’s remembered for his roles in films like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, and the Ocean’s Eleven series.
Reiner often referred to himself as the “fool-in-charge”, because of his tendency to play the straight man in roles across his career. But his peers recognised him as one of comedy’s most important innovators. In 2000, the Kennedy Center awarded him the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, becoming only the third recipient after Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters.
In the wake of his passing, many of his contemporaries and comedy fans took to social media to pay tribute to one of American comedy’s renaissance men. Leading the way was Dick Van Dyke, who said that Reiner “had a deeper understanding of the human condition, than I think even he was aware of.” Others who paid tribute include Jimmy Fallon, Matthew Rosenberg, Bryan Cranston, Hillary Clinton, and Steve Martin.
If you’re too young to have followed Reiner’s career and want to explore Reiner’s vast and diverse body of work—or even if you’re on old fan who wants to revisit his best bits—here’s a few pointers to get you started:
Your Show Of Shows (1950-1954)
Reiner got his first TV break on 90-minute variety showcase Your Show Of Shows, which starred comedy legends Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Reiner was a regular performer and writer on the show.
2000 Year Old Man
Reiner and Mel Brooks did variations on the 2000 Year Old Man routine for years, resulting in five comedy albums, TV appearances, and even an animated television special. Here’s the duo performing the routine on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1967.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)
Created and co-written by Reiner, this show was originally supposed to be titled Head Of The Family, with Reiner playing the protagonist, a head writer on a sitcom based on Reiner’s own life. But when the pilot didn’t get picked up, Reiner re-worked the show and Dick Van Dyke was recast in the role. Reiner also made a few cameos in the wildly successful show, appearing as the protagonist’s vain comedian boss.
The Jerk (1979)
Carl Reiner directed this classic 1979 comedy which launched Steve Martin’s feature film career. This wildly absurdist romp about an Everyman who strikes it big despite his immense stupidity was the first of four very successful movies he directed starring Martin. It’s also a comedy classic.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Even into his 70s and 80s, Reiner wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. He kept himself busy with a variety of acting appearances, with the most successful of them being Ocean’s Eleven, where he played one of members of Steven Sodenbergh’s team of thieves. He appeared in all three films in the trilogy, but his best scenes are probably in the series’ first film.
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