Norman Lear, one of the most influential TV writers and producers in history, has died at 101.
A six-time Emmy-winner, Lear is best known for creating some of the most popular and groundbreaking sitcoms of the 1970s, including All in the Family, Maude, One Day at a Time, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons.
Lear died in his sleep in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, family spokesperson Lara Bergthold told AP.Born July 27, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut to Jewish Russian parents, who he said were the basis for Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family. In 1942, Lear dropped out of Emerson College to enlist in the US Air Force; he flew 52 missions as a gunner and radio operator on Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.
After the war, Lear entered showbiz, forming a comedy partnership with his cousin’s wife Ed Simmons. The two found success writing sketches for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, launching Lear’s career in TV writing — one that would go on to transform television forever.
In 1971, Lear created his most iconic TV series, All in the Family. The show focused on the deeply prejudiced but lovable working-class Archie Bunker, his ditzy and kind wife Edith, their daughter Gloria and Gloria’s liberal husband Michael Stivic, who Archie frequently butts heads with and calls “Meathead.”
The show dealt with a growing generational divide and many hot-button issues — including racism, antisemitism, feminist issues and the ongoing Vietnam War — in a way that was unprecedented in American television.
“The program you are about to see is All in the Family,” a disclaimer in front of the first episode read. “It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are.”
While networks were initially reluctant to pick it up due to its content, All in the Family became a smash hit, ending the year as TV’s top-rated sitcom and winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Still regarded as one of the best sitcoms of all time, All in the Family changed TV forever. At the time sitcoms were still safe, old-fashioned entertainment that avoided current events and the real issues most Americans were facing.“You looked around television in those years, and the biggest problem any family faced was ‘Mother dented the car, and how do you keep Dad from finding out’; ‘the boss is coming to dinner, and the roast’s ruined,’” Lear said in a 2012 New York Times interview. “The message that was sending out was that we didn’t have any problems.”
The sitcom landscape would change radically throughout the ’70s, thanks to Lear, who continued to produce boundary-breaking sitcoms, often spinning off from All in the Family. His other hit sitcoms of the decade include Maude, starring Bea Arthur, One Day at a Time, and two influential shows starring prominently Black casts, The Jeffersons and Good Times.
While these shows were groundbreaking and made headlines due to their hot-topic subject matter, the key to their success is that they were also very funny.
“Controversy suggests people are thinking about something. But there’d better be laughing first and foremost or it’s a dog,” Lear told AP in a 1994 interview.
As he tackled important topics through his TV shows, Lear was just as passionate about the issues of the day in real life. He was famous for advocating for liberal and progressive causes. He founded the advocacy organization People For the American Way in 1981 and toured the US with an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Regarded as a TV legend, Lear remained active and popular well into old age. In recent years he produced revivals of his sitcoms One Day at a Time and Good Times for Netflix, and episodes of All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Good Times were recently re-created with an all star cast as popular live TV specials.
Since news of his passing broke, there have been many tributes to Lear from his peers in the industry, who praised him as a true television pioneer.
“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, per Variety. “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.”
Rest in peace to the incredible Norman Lear, who created some of the greatest TV shows of all time and changed television forever.
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