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Norman Lear, producer of TV's 'All within the Family' and influential liberal advocate, dies at 101

Norman Lear, the author, director and producer who revolutionized prime time tv with “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude,” propelling political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of TV sitcoms, has died. He was 101.

Lear died Tuesday night time in his sleep, surrounded by household at his residence in Los Angeles, mentioned Lara Bergthold, a spokesperson for his household.

A liberal activist with an eye fixed for mainstream leisure, Lear common daring and controversial comedies that had been embraced by viewers who needed to watch the night news to seek out out what was occurring on the planet. His exhibits helped outline prime time comedy within the Nineteen Seventies, launched the careers of Rob Reiner and Valerie Bertinelli and made middle-aged superstars of Carroll O’Connor, Bea Arthur and Redd Foxx.

Lear “took television away from dopey wives and dumb fathers, from the pimps, hookers, hustlers, private eyes, junkies, cowboys and rustlers that constituted television chaos, and in their place he put the American people,” the late Paddy Chayefsky, a number one author of tv’s early “golden age,” as soon as mentioned.

Tributes poured in after his dying: “I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family,” Reiner wrote on X. “More than anybody earlier than him, Norman used scenario comedy to shine a lightweight on prejudice, intolerance, and inequality. He created households that mirrored ours,” Jimmy Kimmel mentioned.

“All in the Family” was immersed within the headlines of the day, whereas additionally drawing upon Lear’s childhood reminiscences of his tempestuous father. Racism, feminism, and the Vietnam War had been flashpoints as blue collar conservative Archie Bunker, performed by O’Connor, clashed with liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic (Reiner). Jean Stapleton co-starred as Archie’s befuddled however good-hearted spouse, Edith, and Sally Struthers performed the Bunkers’ daughter, Gloria, who defended her husband in arguments with Archie.

Lear’s work reworked tv at a time when old style applications equivalent to “Here’s Lucy,” “Ironside” and “Gunsmoke” nonetheless dominated. CBS, Lear’s main community, would quickly enact its “rural purge” and cancel such standbys as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres.” The groundbreaking sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a few single profession girl in Minneapolis, debuted on CBS in September 1970, simply months earlier than “All in the Family” began.

But ABC handed on “All in the Family” twice and CBS ran a disclaimer when it lastly aired the present: “The program you are about to see is ‘All in the Family.’ It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are.”

By the tip of 1971, “All In the Family” was No. 1 within the rankings and Archie Bunker was a popular culture fixture, with President Richard Nixon amongst his followers. Some of his putdowns grew to become catchphrases. He known as his son-in-law “Meathead” and his spouse “Dingbat,” and would snap at anybody who dared occupy his light orange-yellow wing chair. It was the centerpiece of the Bunkers’ rowhouse in Queens, and finally went on show within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Even the present’s opening section was progressive: Instead of an off-screen theme tune, Archie and Edith are seated on the piano of their front room, belting out a nostalgic quantity, “Those Were the Days,” with Edith screeching off-key and Archie crooning such traces as “Didn’t need no welfare state” and “Girls were girls and men were men.”

“All in the Family,” primarily based on the British sitcom, “Til Death Us Do Part,” was the No. 1-rated sequence for an unprecedented 5 years in a row and earned 4 Emmy Awards as greatest comedy sequence, lastly eclipsed by five-time winner “Frasier” in 1998.

Hits continued for Lear and then-partner Bud Yorkin, together with “Maude” and “The Jeffersons,” each spinoffs from “All in the Family,” with the identical profitable mixture of one-liners and social battle. In a 1972 two-part episode of “Maude,” the title character (performed by Arthur) grew to become the primary on tv to have an abortion, drawing a surge of protests together with excessive rankings. And when a detailed buddy of Archie’s turned out to be homosexual, Nixon privately fumed to White House aides that the present “glorified” same-sex relationships.

“Controversy suggests people are thinking about something. But there’d better be laughing first and foremost or it’s a dog,” Lear mentioned in a 1994 interview with The Associated Press.

Lear and Yorkin additionally created “Good Times,” a few working class Black household in Chicago; “Sanford & Son,” a showcase for Foxx as junkyard vendor Fred Sanford; and “One Day at a Time,” starring Bonnie Franklin as a single mom and Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as her daughters. In the 1974-75 season, Lear and Yorkin produced 5 of the highest 10 exhibits.

Lear’s enterprise success enabled him to specific his ardent political views past the small display. In 2000, he and a associate purchased a replica of the Declaration of Independence for $8.14 million and despatched it on a cross-country tour.

He was an energetic donor to Democratic candidates and based the nonprofit liberal advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980, he mentioned, as a result of individuals equivalent to evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had been “abusing religion.”

“I began to say, ‘This is not my America. You don’t combine politics and faith this manner,’” Lear mentioned in a 1992 interview with Commonweal journal.

The nonprofit’s president, Svante Myrick, mentioned “we are heartbroken” by Lear’s dying. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Norman’s wife Lyn and their entire family, and to the many people who​, like us,​ loved Norman.”

With his wry smile and impish boat hat, the youthful Lear created tv properly into his 90s, rebooting “One Day at a Time” for Netflix in 2017 and exploring earnings inequality for the documentary sequence “America Divided” in 2016. Documentarians featured him in 2016’s “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” and 2017’s “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” a have a look at energetic nonagenarians equivalent to Lear and Rob Reiner’s father, Carl Reiner.

In 1984, he was lauded because the “innovative writer who brought realism to television” when he grew to become one of many first seven individuals inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame. He later obtained a National Medal of Arts and was honored on the Kennedy Center. In 2020, he received an Emmy as government producer of “ Live In Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All In the Family’ and ‘Good Times’.’”

Lear beat the powerful TV odds to an astounding diploma: At least certainly one of his exhibits positioned in prime-time’s prime 10 for 11 consecutive years (1971-82). But Lear had flops as properly.

Shows together with “Hot L Baltimore,” “Palmerstown” and “a.k.a. Pablo,” a uncommon Hispanic sequence, drew essential favor however couldn’t discover an viewers; others, equivalent to “All That Glitters” and “The Nancy Walker Show,” earned neither. He additionally confronted resistance from solid members, together with “Good Times” stars John Amos and Esther Rolle, who usually objected to the scripts as racially insensitive, and endured a mid-season walkout by Foxx, who missed eight episodes in 1973-74 due to a contract dispute.

In the Nineties, the comedy “704 Hauser,” which returned to the Bunker home with a brand new household, and the political satire “The Powers that Be” had been each short-lived.

Lear’s enterprise strikes, in the meantime, had been virtually persistently fruitful.

Lear began T.A.T. Communications in 1974 to be “sole creative captain of his ship,” his former enterprise associate Jerry Perenchio advised the Los Angeles Times in 1990. The firm grew to become a serious TV producer with exhibits together with “One Day at a Time” and the soap-opera spoof “Mary Hartman Mary Hartman,” which Lear distributed himself after it was rejected by the networks.

In 1982, Lear and Perenchio purchased Avco-Embassy Pictures and fashioned Embassy Communications as T.A.T.’s successor, changing into efficiently concerned in motion pictures, residence video, pay TV and cable possession. In 1985, Lear and Perenchio bought Embassy to Coca-Cola for $485 million. They had bought their cable holdings the yr earlier than, reportedly for a hefty revenue.

By 1986, Lear was on Forbes journal’s checklist of the 400 richest individuals in America, with an estimated internet value of $225 million. He didn’t make the reduce the following yr after a $112 million divorce settlement for his second spouse, Frances. They had been married 29 years and had two daughters.

He married his third spouse, psychologist Lyn Davis, in 1987 and the couple had three youngsters. (Frances Lear, who went on to discovered the now-defunct Lear’s journal along with her settlement, died in 1996 at age 73.)

Lear was born in New Haven, Conn. on July 27, 1922, to Herman Lear, a securities dealer who served time in jail for promoting faux bonds, and Jeanette, a homemaker who helped encourage Edith Bunker. Like a sitcom, his household life was filled with quirks and grudges, “a group of people living at the ends of their nerves and the tops of their lungs,” he defined throughout a 2004 look on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

His political activism had deep roots. In a 1984 interview with The New York Times, Lear recalled how, at age 10, he would mail letters for his Russian immigrant grandfather, Shia Seicol, which started “My dearest darling Mr. President,” to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sometimes a reply got here.

“That my grandfather mattered made me feel every citizen mattered,” mentioned Lear, who at 15 was sending his personal messages to Congress through Western Union.

He dropped out of Emerson College 1942 to enlist within the Air Force and flew 52 fight missions in Europe as a turret gunner, incomes a Decorated Air Medal. After World War II, he labored in public relations.

Lear started writing within the early Fifties on exhibits together with “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and for such comedians as Martha Raye and George Gobel. In 1959, he and Yorkin based Tandem Productions, which produced movies together with “Come Blow Your Horn,” “Start the Revolution Without Me” and “Divorce American Style.” Lear additionally directed the 1971 satire “Cold Turkey,” starring Dick Van Dyke a few small city that takes on a tobacco firm’s supply of $25 million to give up smoking for 30 days.

In his later years, Lear joined with Warren Buffett and James E. Burke to ascertain The Business Enterprise Trust, honoring companies that take a long-term view of their impact on the nation. He additionally based the Norman Lear Center on the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, exploring leisure, commerce and society and in addition hung out at his residence in Vermont. In 2014, he printed the memoir “Even This I Get to Experience.”

Contributors embody Alicia Rancilio in Detroit and Hillel Italie in New York.

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