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Comedian And Actor Sid Caesar Has Died At 91

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in a scene from <em>Your Show of Shows</em>. Caesar, whose sketches lit up 1950s television, died Wednesday at 91.
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in a scene from Your Show of Shows. Caesar, whose sketches lit up 1950s television, died Wednesday at 91.

The multitalented Sid Caesar took live and complex comedy skits on the air as a pioneer in 1950s TV. Caesar, who established a new comedic tradition in America before he was 30, died in Los Angeles on Wednesday at 91.

Caesar's biographer and close friend Eddy Friedfeld confirmed the comedian's death, saying he had spoken with Caesar's daughter, Karen. The news of Caesar's death was first reported by Larry King on Twitter.

It was the NBC program Your Show of Shows that put Caesar on the map when it debuted in 1950. Here's how NPR's Susan Stamberg describes it:

"Sid Caesar was 27 when he launched Your Show of Shows — TV's first and greatest live comedy. His writers became comedy royalty: Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, his brother Danny, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Mel Brooks."

We'll have a full remembrance of the comedian's career from Susan later today. It includes this quote from Carl Reiner:

"Sid was the flame. Every writer was a moth who wanted to hang around that flame. There wasn't a writer in television who didn't want to be flicking around that flame."

The show remains a cultural touchstone, but its creator, Caesar, later fell out of favor — and into a long struggle with addiction.

"By the age of 32 he was a millionaire," Susan says. "By the time he was 35, Caesar's Hour had been canceled, he was off the air, and drinking too much."

As Variety reports, Caesar sometimes referred to that era as a "20-year blackout" — something he hinted at in the title of his 1982 autobiography, Where Have I Been.

He emerged from that period to act and perform on stage and TV, as well as in films. From Variety:

"He had quite a year in 1997, at age 75: He appeared on Life With Louie and Mad About You on TV, drawing an Emmy [nomination] for the latter, and in the film Vegas Vacation, and he joined fellow TV icons Bob Hope and Milton Berle at the 50th anniversary Primetime Emmy Awards, where the three drew a long standing ovation."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.