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‘Dick Van Dyke’ Creator and Comedy Legend Carl Reiner Dies at 98

Reiner was a jack-of-all-trades who dabbled in practically every element of Hollywood, from publishing to comedy, showrunning, and screenwriting. 

Carl Reiner

Carl Reiner

Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Multitalented creator Carl Reiner has died at the age of 98. The news was confirmed by Reiner’s assistant, who told Variety that the actor, comedian, and director died of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills on Monday, June 29. Reiner was a jack-of-all-trades who dabbled in practically every element of Hollywood, from publishing to comedy, showrunning, and screenwriting.

Carl Reiner was born in the Bronx on March 20, 1922. His parents were Jewish immigrants. His father, a watchmaker named Irving, was born in Austria while mother, Bessie, was Romanian. It was Reiner’s older brother Charlie who inspired Carl to go into acting after the older Reiner learned about a free dramatic workshop, but unfortunately, Charlie Reiner would die in WWII. In 1943 Carl Reiner was drafted into the Army Air Force; he’d serve throughout the war but maintained close ties to the world of acting by performing in shows around the Pacific theater and entertaining the troops.

After the war, Reiner would start to appear on the Broadway stage, but his big break would come through the medium of television, when he started on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” in 1950. He joined an already talented writing troupe that would include Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Brooks and Reiner would continue to collaborate, debuting their legendary 2,000 Year Old Man routine in 1960 on the Steve Allen Show. They would expand the routine into a series of comedy albums and an animated special, winning a Grammy in the process.

It was in 1959 that Reiner would pitch his first series, a pilot entitled “Head of the Family” about a loveable patriarch with many of the situations inspired by Reiner’s own life. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t want him leading the series, instead casting Dick Van Dyke and retitling the series “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Reiner would make several appearances on the series as Alan Brady.

With “The Dick Van Dyke Show” set — it would run from 1961 to 1966 — Reiner would also take up directing and starring in motion pictures, as well as screenwriting. In 1963 he wrote the Doris Day/James Garner romantic comedy “The Thrill of It All.” He costarred in the 1966 political comedy “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” directed by Norman Jewison. He would regularly star in motion pictures, including playing Saul Bloom in all three features in the “Ocean’s 11” franchise.

He made his directorial debut in 1967 adapting his own 1958 novel “Enter Laughing.” He later directed the classic Steve Martin feature “The Jerk” in 1979 and the cinematic throwbacks “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” in 1982 and “The Man With Two Brains” in 1983.  Reiner and Steve Martin would pair up three times, in the previously two mentioned films, as well as in 1984’s “All of Me.”

Carl Reiner and Betty White

Carl Reiner

HBO

Over the last decade Reiner performed numerous voice roles, voicing Santa in the Nickelodeon’s “Penguins of Madagascar” series and appearing on “The Cleveland Show.” He also played Carl Rhinoceros in an episode of the Disney+ series “Forky Asks a Question” in 2019, playing opposite Carol Burnett, Betty White, and close friend Mel Brooks. Reiner also knew how to stay relevant, becoming one of the oldest celebrities active on Twitter (@carlreiner).

In 2000, Reiner was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. He authored or co-authored 18 books, with his autobiography “Too Busy to Die” debuting in 2017. That same year he had his hand and footprints immortalized at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre), alongside that of his son Rob Reiner, during the TCM Classic Film Festival. He was the recipient of nine Primetime Emmy Awards, and in 2019 he was honored by the Paley Center for Media as part of a special tribute to comedy legends.

Reiner was married for 64 years to Estelle Lebost until her death in 2008. Lebost is best remembered as the woman who said “I’ll have what she’s having” in “When Harry Met Sally.” He is survived by his three children: director, comedian and actor Rob Reiner; playwright, poet, and author Annie Reiner; and painter Lucas Reiner, as well as six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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