NEW YORK (AP) – Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a â€œsecond bananaâ€ to Sid Caesar and rose to comedyâ€™s front ranks as creator of â€œThe Dick Van Dyke Showâ€ and straight man to Mel Brooksâ€™ â€œ2000 Year Old Man,â€ has died. He was 98.
Reinerâ€™s assistant Judy Nagy said he died Monday night of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, California.
He was one of show businessâ€™ best-liked men. The tall, bald Reiner was a welcome face on the small and silver screens: In Caesarâ€™s 1950s troupe, as the snarling, toupee-wearing Alan Brady of â€œThe Dick Van Dyke Showâ€ and in such films as â€œThe Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Comingâ€ and â€œItâ€™s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.â€
In recent years, he was part of the roguish gang in the â€œOceanâ€™s Elevenâ€ movies starring George Clooney and appeared in documentaries including â€œBroadway: Beyond the Golden Ageâ€ and â€œIf Youâ€™re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.â€
Tributes poured in, with Van Dyke calling Reiner â€œkind, gentle, compassionate, empathetic and wise,â€ and Clooney saying he made â€œevery room he walked into funnier, smarter, kinder.â€
Betty White described herself as privileged to work with Reiner and â€œheartbroken.â€ Steve Martin said goodbye to â€œmy greatest mentor in movies and in life. Thank you, dear Carl.â€ Billy Crystal said â€œall of us in comedy have lost a giant,â€ and Sarah Silverman said â€his humanity was beyond compare.â€
Reiner directed such films as â€œOh, God!â€ starring George Burns and John Denver; â€œAll of Me,â€ with Martin and Lily Tomlin; and the 1970 comedy â€œWhereâ€™s Poppa?â€ His books include â€œEnter Laughing,â€ an autobiographical novel later adapted into a film and Broadway show; and â€œMy Anecdotal Life,â€ a memoir published in 2003. He recounted his childhood and creative journey in the 2013 book, â€œI Remember Me.â€
But many remember Reiner for â€œThe Dick Van Dyke Show,â€ one of the most popular TV series of all time and a model of ensemble playing, physical comedy and timeless, good-natured wit. 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 son.
â€œThe Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal,â€ Reiner once said. â€œIt was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar show.”
The pilot, written by Reiner, starred himself as Rob Petrie, and aired in July 1960. When the show was reworked (CBS executives worried Reiner would make the lead character seem too Jewish), Van Dyke was cast and the program ran from 1961 to 1966. One famous fan, Orson Welles, was known for rushing to his bedroom in the afternoon so he could be near a TV when the show was on.
â€œAlthough it was a collaborative effort,â€³ Van Dyke later wrote, â€everything about the show stemmed from his (Reinerâ€™s) endlessly and enviably fascinating, funny, and fertile brain and trickled down to the rest of us.”
The story line had Petrie as the head writer for â€œThe Alan Brady Show,â€ a comedy-variety series not unlike â€œYour Show of Shows,â€ in which Reiner, as Brady, was the egocentric star. Petrieâ€™s fellow writers were character actors Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell and Rose Marie as Sally Rogers.
It was an early parody of the Caesar show, which would later be dramatized in the film â€œMy Favorite Yearâ€ and Neil Simonâ€™s play â€œLaughter on the 23rd Floor.â€
Besides acting in and producing the â€œVan Dykeâ€ series, Reiner wrote or co-wrote dozens of episodes. Although the show was the best of good clean fun, it wasnâ€™t clean enough for network censors. Reiner often battled network officials over the sleeping arrangements of Rob and his wife; the Petries slept in twin beds. He wanted them to sleep in a double bed.
Reiner joined the classic comedy revue â€œYour Show of Showsâ€ in 1950 after performing in Broadway plays. Much of Reinerâ€™s early work came as a â€œsecond bananaâ€ – although, as Caesar once put it, â€œSuch bananas donâ€™t grow on trees.â€ He performed in sketches – satirizing everything from foreign films to rock â€˜nâ€™ roll – and added his talents to a writing team that included Brooks, Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart.
â€œAs second banana,â€ he told TV Guide, â€œI had a chance to do just about everything a performer can ever get to do. If it came off well, I got all the applause. If it didnâ€™t, the show was blamed.â€
It was during the â€œShow of Showsâ€ years that Reiner and Brooks started improvising skits which became the basis for â€œThe 2000 Year Old Man.â€ Reiner was the interviewer, Brooks the old man and witness to history.
Reiner: â€œDid you know Jesus?â€
Brooks: â€œI knew Christ, Christ was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Hung around with 12 other guys. They came in the store, no one ever bought anything. Once they asked for water.â€
After the pair performed the routine at a party, Reiner said Steve Allen insisted they turn their banter into a record. The album, â€œ2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,â€ appeared in 1960 and was the start of a million-selling franchise.
The duo won a Grammy in 1998 for their â€œThe 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000â€ and Reiner won multiple Emmys for his television work. In 2000, he received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor. When the sound system failed at the start of the ceremonies, Reiner called from the balcony, â€œDoes anybody have four double-A batteries?â€
Besides â€œAll of Me,â€ Reiner directed Martin in â€œDead Men Donâ€™t Wear Plaid,â€ â€œThe Man With Two Brainsâ€ and â€œThe Jerk.â€
Reiner was the father of actor-director Rob Reiner, who starred as Archie Bunkerâ€™s son-in-law on â€œAll in the Familyâ€ and directed â€œWhen Harry Met Sally…â€ Rob Reiner said in a tweet Tuesday that his “heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”
Carl Reiner was born in 1922, in New York Cityâ€™s Bronx borough, 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, Reiner attended drama school, then joined a small theater group.
During World War II, 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 â€œCall Me Mister.â€
He married his wife, Estelle, in 1943. Besides son Rob, the couple had another son, Lucas, a film director, and a daughter, Sylvia, a psychoanalyst and author. Estelle Reiner, who died in 2008, had a small role in Rob Reinerâ€™s â€œWhen Harry Met Sally…â€ – as the woman who overhears Meg Ryan play-acting in a restaurant and says, â€œIâ€™ll have what sheâ€™s having.â€
Carl Reiner’s greatest disappointment was â€œBert Rigby, Youâ€™re a Fool,â€ a 1989 musical he wrote and directed that starred Robert Lindsay, a British actor Reiner believed could be a new Dick Van Dyke. The film flopped, and Reinerâ€™s career as a director faded.
Reiner, inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciencesâ€™ Hall of Fame, remained involved in other entertainment projects. In the 1990s, he reprised the Alan Brady character for an episode of â€œMad About You.â€
His death was first reported Tuesday by celebrity website TMZ.
AP National Writer Hillel Italie and Entertainment Writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this story.