Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a “second banana” to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy’s front ranks as creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show and straight man to Mel Brooks’s 2000 Year Old Man, has died. He was 98.
Reiner’s assistant Judy Nagy said he died of natural causes Monday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
One of the best-liked men in show business, the tall, bald Reiner was a welcome face on the small and silver screens. He was known for his work in Caesar’s 1950s troupe, as the snarling, toupée-wearing Alan Brady of The Dick Van Dyke Show and in such films as The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
In recent years, he was part of the roguish gang in the Ocean’s Eleven movies starring George Clooney and appeared in documentaries including Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age and If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.
Tributes poured in online, including from actor Josh Gadd, who called Reiner “one of the greatest comedic minds of all time,” and writer Bill Kristol, who said: “What a life!” Actor Alan Alda tweeted: “His talent will live on for a long time, but the loss of his kindness and decency leaves a hole in our hearts.”
My friend Carl Reiner died last night. His talent will live on for a long time, but the loss of his kindness and decency leaves a hole in our hearts. We love you, Carl. pic.twitter.com/QWyNOYILhW
– @ alanalda
Films he directed included Oh, God! starring George Burns and John Denver; All of Me, with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin; and the 1970 comedy Where’s Poppa?
He was especially proud of his books, including Enter Laughing, an autobiographical novel later adapted into a film and Broadway show; and My Anecdotal Life, a memoir published in 2003. He recounted his childhood and creative journey in the 2013 book, I Remember Me.
But many remember Reiner for The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the most popular television series of all time and a model of ensemble playing, physical comedy and timeless, good-natured wit.
Carl Reiner, the famed writer, actor and director, has died at age 98. Back in 1999, he talked to @CBC’s Midday about the early days of television and how performers are influenced by the performers who came before them. pic.twitter.com/rcHWWbykEJ
It starred Van Dyke as a television comedy writer working for a demanding, eccentric boss (Reiner) and living with his wife (Mary Tyler Moore in her first major TV role) and young son in suburban New Rochelle, N.Y.
“The Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments, because that was very, very personal,” Reiner once said. “It was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar show.”
Reiner was born in 1922, in New York City’s borough of the Bronx, one of two sons of Jewish immigrants. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood, where he learned to mimic voices and tell jokes. After high school, he attended drama school, then joined a small theatre group.
During the Second World War, Reiner joined the Army and toured in GI variety shows for a year and a half. Back out of uniform, he landed several stage roles, breaking through on Broadway in Call Me Mister.
He married his wife, Estelle, in 1943. Besides his actor-director son Rob Reiner, the couple had two other children: Lucas, a film director, and Sylvia, a psychoanalyst and author.
Last night my dad passed away. As I write this my heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.
– @ robreiner
“As I write this my heart is hurting. He was my guiding light,” Rob Reiner tweeted on Tuesday.
Reiner, inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame, remained involved in other entertainment projects. In the 1990s, he reprised the Alan Brady character for an episode of Mad About You.
His death was first reported Tuesday by celebrity website TMZ.