Tragically, famed TV producer Norman Lear passed away at his Los Angeles home on Tuesday. His groundbreaking sitcoms, such as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” combined comedy with incisive social criticism and were huge hits in the 1970s, dominating network ratings. His family made the announcement on his website. It was 101 years old.
“Norman lived a life of curiosity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all,” his family said.
“He began his career in the earliest days of live television and discovered a passion for writing about the real lives of Americans, not a glossy ideal. At first, his ideas were met with closed doors and misunderstanding. However, he stuck to his conviction that the ‘foolishness of the human condition’ made great television, and eventually he was heard.”
When Peter Lear began producing plays in 1971 with “All in the Family,” he ventured to address taboo subjects including sexism, racism, and socioeconomic inequality.
The white working-class Bunker family and its peculiarly likeable father Archie Bunker—who was small-minded, irascible, prejudiced—were the center of the Emmy-winning sitcom that won for Outstanding New Series.
On Wednesday, Rob Reiner—who played Michael “Meathead” Stivic, Bunker’s ideologically diametrically opposed son-in-law on the sitcom—paid tribute to Lear on social media. “I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family,” Reiner shared in a statement.
I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family.
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) December 6, 2023
“Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” and “Good Times” were among the many politically charged and commercially successful spinoffs of “All in the Family.” The popularity of Lear’s series, according to his 2014 biography “Even This I Get to Experience,” was due, in large part, to the writers’ ability to portray realistic individuals based on their own experiences.
“The audiences themselves taught me that you can get some wonderful laughs on the surface with funny performers and good jokes,” he wrote, “But if you want them laughing from the belly, you stand a better chance if you can get them caring first.”
He served as an executive producer for the beloved films “The Princess Bride” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and his screenplay for “Divorce American Style” was nominated for an Academy Award. He was instrumental in forming the liberal group People for the American Way through his political activism.
He became a political target for the conservatives due to the success of his concerts and his subsequent liberal ideology, which he supported publicly and financially. As an example, he was proudly listed on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and was also dubbed the “No. 1 enemy of the American family” by Jerry Falwell, creator of the Moral Majority.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal stated in a 2016 documentary about Lear’s life and work that “Television can be broken into two parts, BN and AN: Before Norman and After Norman.” “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” a documentary directed by Lear’s friend and fellow nonagenarian Carl Reiner, was eventually released.
Little did Lear slow down in his twilight years. Lear, who is 95 years old, co-hosted and produced three episodes of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” with Jimmy Kimmel. The show was nominated for Primetime Emmys in 2019 and 2020.
Cast members from today’s popular TV shows like “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family,” and “Good Times” reprised their roles from the original episodes for this series. After a long and eventful life, Lear became an elder statesman in the entertainment industry and received accolades that went beyond generations.
In 1999, President Clinton presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2017, he was inducted into the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Fame during its annual honors. In 2019, he became the oldest nominee and winner of an Emmy, at 97 years old. In 2020, he broke his own record.
Lear attributed his long life to his job, lox and bagels, family love, laughing, and his centennial in 2022. “I like getting up in the morning with something on my mind, something I can work on … to some conclusion,” Lear said.
With a 47-year age difference between the eldest and youngest, he had a total of six children from his three marriages, the most recent being to Lyn in 1987. Considering the enduring significance of the politically charged humor he introduced, Lear pondered in a 2020 interview with CNN.
The persistent unwillingness of networks to address controversial topics was another topic of his jokes. “It’s a new set of executives, [but] the same old buildings,” he quipped. “They are reincarnated.” The labeling of Lear’s performances as “edgy” was something he strongly disagreed with, both then and now.
“Edgy is what others wrote about it, but I never thought it was edgy,” he said. “We were simply dealing with the problems that existed in our culture.”
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