Saturday, June 15th 2024   |

Norman Lear, Jewish creator of pioneering TV comedies including ‘All in the Family,’ dies at 101

By ANDREW LAPIN

(JTA) — Norman Lear, the Jewish TV pioneer behind iconic comedies of the 1970s and 1980s that helped bring social commentary and Black characters into the mainstream, has died at 101.

Lear’s death was announced by a spokesperson for his family, according to The New York Times.

Norman Lear attends the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony honoring Marla Gibbs on July 20, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

The decorated creator of “All In The Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and a host of other groundbreaking TV sitcoms, Lear lived and worked through just about every era of Hollywood comedy. A lifelong liberal in part, he said, because of hearing an antisemitic preacher on the radio as a child, he was also a notable donor to liberal causes.

He reached his 100-year milestone a few years ahead of peers Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke (both 96). But he’s had to say goodbye to other beloved longtime colleagues, including Carl Reiner (who died in 2020 at age 98), talent manager George Shapiro (who died in May at 91) and Betty White (who died shortly before her 100th birthday).

Lear got his own documentary in 2016 and has received a Kennedy Center honor, as well as just about every other award under the sun. Yet even as he notched the century mark, he continued to work, co-hosting “Live In Front Of A Studio Audience,” a series of TV specials in which celebrities recreate episodes of his old sitcoms, and executive-producing the recent remake of his show “One Day At A Time,” as well as last year’s documentary “Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It.”

Born July 27, 1922, to Jewish parents who had Russian and Ukrainian ancestry, Lear celebrated his bar mitzvah in his native Connecticut. He recalled that hearing antisemitic preacher Father Coughlin on the radio as a child helped fuel his interest in political activism. Since the 1970s, he has donated large sums to progressive causes, and in 1981 he founded an organization aimed at countering the influence of the Christian religious right wing in politics.

Over time, his many early projects — which also included “Good Times,” the first family show led by two Black parent characters — were seen as a crucial bridge to wider acceptance of Black stories in pop culture. Though “Good Times” was criticized for what many perceived as an over-reliance on catchphrases and stereotypes, follow-up “The Jeffersons” gave American culture a robust and celebrated portrait of upwardly mobile Black middle-class life.

“It’s not that there had not been black people on television before,” wrote Ronda Racha Penrice, a Black cultural critic, in 2016. “But black people had not been on television by the ’70s in roles where who they were mattered as much to them as they did on ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons.’”

“All in the Family,” which starred the “lovable bigot” Archie Bunker character, has also been appraised as one of the earliest TV shows to deal with antisemitism in the United States — though Lear’s intention to paint Archie’s opinions as abhorrent backfired when many viewers, including U.S. President Richard Nixon, decided they agreed with him.

Lear’s support for liberal causes lasted through his later years. Shortly after turning 100 last year, Donald Trump reiterated an argument he had made as president — that American Jews endangered themselves by not supporting him. Lear quickly made headlines for calling Trump a “horse’s ass.”

“Today, having recently turned 100, I read Donald Trump’s appalling words about American Jews, and I am nine years old again,” he tweeted. “The phrase, a horse’s ass, was an everyday expression when I was nine and it occurs to me again now.”

Days earlier, Lear had taken to Instagram to reminisce with a video, singing a lick from the classic tune “That’s Amore,” recalling how he once worked for Dean Martin singing the same during the Colgate Comedy Hour in the 1950s.

Reflecting on his life in the video, Lear expressed gratitude for every moment of it.

“Living in the moment, the moment between past and present, present and past, the hammock in the middle of after and next,” he said by way of advice. “Treasure it. Use it with love.”

Share Button