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Norman Lear, a legendary television producer and writer who revolutionized American comedy and culture, died on December 5, 2023, at the age of 101. His family confirmed his death in a statement, saying that he passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles, surrounded by his loved ones.
Lear was the creative force behind some of the most popular and influential sitcoms of the 1970s and beyond, such as All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons. His shows broke new ground in television history, by tackling controversial and taboo topics such as racism, sexism, homosexuality, abortion, and war, with humor and honesty. His characters, such as Archie Bunker, Maude Findlay, Fred Sanford, and George Jefferson, became household names and cultural icons, who reflected and challenged the social and political issues of their times.
Lear’s impact on American culture and society was immense and lasting. He was widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential television producers and writers of all time, who inspired generations of viewers and creators. He won multiple Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and Golden Globe Awards for his work, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984. He was also honored with the National Medal of Arts in 1999, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2017, and the Carol Burnett Award in 2021. He was also an active and outspoken advocate for civil rights, social justice, and democracy, who founded several organizations, such as People for the American Way, The Norman Lear Center, and Declare Yourself.
Norman Lear, ‘All in the Family’ Creator
Lear was born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Russia. He grew up in a turbulent and impoverished household, with a father who was a salesman and a gambler, and a mother who was distant and sarcastic. He developed a sense of humor and a love for storytelling as a way of coping with his difficult childhood.
He dropped out of college to join the Army Air Forces during World War II, where he served as a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 bomber. He flew 52 combat missions over Europe and Africa, and was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters.
After the war, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started his career in television and film as a writer and producer. He worked on various shows and movies, such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Martha Raye Show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and Divorce American Style. He also collaborated with notable comedians and actors, such as Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Danny Kaye, and Mel Brooks.
In 1971, he created his first hit show, All in the Family, based on a British sitcom called Till Death Us Do Part. The show featured a conservative and bigoted working-class father, Archie Bunker, and his liberal and outspoken daughter, Gloria, and son-in-law, Mike. The show was a huge success, and spawned several spin-offs, such as Maude, The Jeffersons, and Good Times. Lear also created other popular and acclaimed shows, such as Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
Lear’s groundbreaking approach to comedy was to tackle controversial and taboo topics, such as racism, sexism, homosexuality, abortion, and war, with humor and honesty. He used his shows as a platform to address the social and political issues of the 1970s and beyond, and to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices of the American society. He also gave voice and representation to diverse and marginalized groups, such as African Americans, women, and LGBTQ+ people, who were often ignored or stereotyped by mainstream media.
Lear’s shows reflected and challenged the social and political issues of the 1970s and beyond, and influenced generations of viewers and creators. His shows were watched by millions of Americans, who were entertained, educated, and provoked by his witty and insightful stories and characters. His shows also inspired and influenced many other television producers and writers, such as James L. Brooks, Shonda Rhimes, Tina Fey, and Norman Lear himself, who continued to create and produce shows until his late 90s.
Many of his colleagues, friends, and fans paid tribute to him and his legacy, after his death was announced. Some of them are:
- Rob Reiner, who played Mike on All in the Family, tweeted: “Norman Lear was my second father. He taught me everything I know about comedy, life, and how to be a human being. He was a genius, a mentor, a friend, and a giant of a man. I will miss him dearly.”
- Rita Moreno, who starred on One Day at a Time, said: “Norman Lear was a visionary, a pioneer, and a legend. He changed the face of television and the world with his courage and his compassion. He was a generous and kind soul, who always made me laugh and feel loved. He was a gift to us all.”
Norman Lear was a visionary and a pioneer who changed the face of television and the American society. He created shows that made people laugh, think, and feel, while addressing the most pressing and sensitive issues of his era. He challenged the norms and conventions of the entertainment industry and the public discourse, and opened the doors for more diverse and authentic voices and stories. He influenced generations of viewers and creators, who admired his courage, creativity, and humanity.
Lear is survived by his wife, Lyn Davis Lear, and his six children: Ellen, Kate, Maggie, Benjamin, Brianna, and Madeline. He also leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy and activism, as he supported various causes and organizations that promoted civil rights, social justice, and democracy. He donated his original copy of the Declaration of Independence to the National Archives, and launched a nationwide tour of the document to inspire civic engagement. He also produced documentaries and podcasts that explored the American identity and values.
Lear once said, “Life is made up of small pleasures. Happiness is made up of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. And if you don’t collect all these tiny successes, the big ones don’t really mean anything.” He certainly collected many successes, big and small, in his remarkable life and career. He will be remembered and celebrated as one of the greatest and most beloved figures in American television and culture. As his iconic character Archie Bunker would say, “Good night, Meathead.”