Tom Smothers, half of the Smothers Brothers and the co-host of probably the most socially acutely aware and groundbreaking tv reveals within the historical past of the medium, has died at 86.
The Nationwide Comedy Middle, on behalf of his household, mentioned in an announcement Wednesday that Smothers died Tuesday at dwelling in Santa Rosa, California, following a most cancers battle.
“Tom was not solely the loving older brother that everybody would need of their life, he was a one-of-a-kind inventive associate,” his brother and the duo’s different half, Dick Smothers, mentioned within the assertion. “Our relationship was like a great marriage — the longer we have been collectively, the extra we beloved and revered each other. We have been actually blessed.”
When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS within the fall of 1967 it was a direct hit, to the shock of many who had assumed the community’s expectations have been so low it positioned their present reverse the top-rated “Bonanza.”
However the Smothers Brothers would show a turning level in tv historical past, with its sharp eye for popular culture tendencies and younger rock stars akin to The Who and Buffalo Springfield, and its daring sketches — ridiculing the Institution, railing in opposition to the Vietnam Warfare and portraying members of the period’s hippie counterculture as light, fun-loving spirits — discovered a direct viewers with younger child boomers. The present reached No. 16 within the scores in its first season.
It additionally drew the ire of community censors. After years of battling with the brothers over the present’s inventive content material, the community abruptly canceled this system in 1970, accusing the siblings of failing to submit an episode in time for the censors to evaluation.
Practically 40 years later, when Smothers was awarded an honorary Emmy for his work on the present, he jokingly thanked the writers he mentioned had gotten him fired. He additionally confirmed that the years had not dulled his outspokenness.
“It’s exhausting for me to remain silent after I maintain listening to that peace is barely attainable by means of battle,” Smothers mentioned on the 2008 Emmy Awards as his brother sat within the viewers, beaming. He devoted his award to these “who really feel compelled to talk out and aren’t afraid to talk to energy and gained’t shut up and refuse to be silenced.”
Through the three years the present was on tv, the brothers continually battled with CBS censors and infrequently outraged viewers as nicely, notably when Smothers joked that Easter “is when Jesus comes out of his tomb and if he sees his shadow, he goes again in and we get six extra weeks of winter.” At Christmas, when different hosts have been sending finest needs to troopers preventing abroad, Smothers supplied his to draft dodgers who had moved to Canada.
In nonetheless one other episode, the brothers returned blacklisted people singer Pete Seeger to tv for the primary time in years. He carried out his tune “Waist Deep within the Large Muddy,” broadly seen as ridiculing President Lyndon Johnson. When CBS refused to air the section, the brothers introduced Seeger again for one more episode and he sang it once more. This time, it made the air.
After the present was canceled, the brothers sued CBS for $31 million and have been awarded $775,000. Their battles with the community have been chronicled within the 2002 documentary “Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”
“Tom Smothers was not solely a rare comedic expertise, who, collectively together with his brother Dick, turned essentially the most enduring comedy duo in historical past, entertaining the world for over six many years — however was a real champion for freedom of speech, harnessing the ability of comedy to push boundaries and our political consciousness,” Nationwide Comedy Middle Government Director Journey Gunderson mentioned in an announcement.
Thomas Bolyn Smothers III was born Feb. 2, 1937, on Governors Island, New York, the place his father, a Navy main, was stationed. His brother was born two years later. In 1940 their father was transferred to the Philippines, and his spouse, two sons and their sister, Sherry, accompanied him.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the household was despatched dwelling and Maj. Smothers remained. He was captured by the Japanese through the battle and died in captivity. The household ultimately moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Seaside, the place Smothers helped his mom maintain his brother and sister whereas she labored.
The brothers had appeared unlikely to make tv historical past. They’d spent a number of years on the nightclub and school circuits and doing TV visitor appearances, honing an offbeat comedy routine that blended people music with a wholesome dose of sibling rivalry.
They’d come on stage, Tom with a guitar in hand and Dick toting an upright bass. They’d rapidly break into a conventional people tune — maybe “John Henry” or “Pretoria.” After taking part in a number of bars, Tom, positioned because the dumb one, would mess up, then rapidly declare he had meant to do this. As Dick, the intense, short-tempered one, berated him for failing to acknowledge his error, he would scream in exasperation, “Mother all the time appreciated you finest!”
They continued that shtick on their present but in addition surrounded themselves with a gifted solid of newcomers, each writers and performers.
Among the many crack writing crew that Smothers headed have been future actor-filmmaker Rob Reiner, musician Mason Williams and comic Steve Martin, who introduced Smothers with the lifetime Emmy. Common musical company included John Hartford, Glen Campbell and Jennifer Warnes.
Bob Einstein had a recurring position as Officer Judy, a dour Los Angeles police officer who as soon as cited visitor Liberace for taking part in the piano too quick. Leigh French, because the hippie earth mom within the section “Share a Little Tea With Goldie,” all the time appeared to have been consuming one thing brewed with extra than simply tea leaves.
The brothers had begun their very own act when Tom, then a pupil at San Jose State College, shaped a music group referred to as the Informal Quintet and inspired his youthful brother to be taught the bass and be a part of. The brothers continued on as a duo after the opposite musicians dropped out, however started interspersing comedy with their restricted people music repertoire.
Their massive break got here in 1959 once they appeared at San Francisco’s Purple Onion, then a scorching spot for brand spanking new expertise. Booked for 2 weeks, they stayed a document 36. Booked into New York’s Blue Angel, they gained reward from The New York Instances, which described them as “a pair of tart-tongued singing comedians.” However to their disappointment, they couldn’t get on “The Tonight Present,” then hosted by Jack Paar.
“Paar saved telling our agent he didn’t like people singers — aside from Burl Ives,” Smothers advised The Related Press in 1964. “However one night time he had a cancellation, and we went on. Every thing labored proper that night time.”
The brothers went on to look on the TV reveals of Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, Andy Williams, Jack Benny and Judy Garland. Their comedy albums have been massive sellers and so they toured the nation, particularly faculties.
Tv first got here calling in 1965, casting them in “The Smothers Brothers Present,” a sitcom a couple of businessman (Dick) haunted by his late brother (Tom), a fledgling guardian angel. It lasted only one season.
Shortly after CBS canceled the “Comedy Hour,” ABC picked it up as a summer season alternative, however the community didn’t carry it again within the fall. NBC gave them a present in 1975 however it failed to search out an viewers and lasted solely a season. The brothers went their separate methods for a time within the Nineteen Seventies. Amongst different endeavors, Smothers received into the wine enterprise, launching Remick Ridge Vineyards in Northern California’s wine nation.
“Initially the vineyard was referred to as Smothers Brothers, however I modified the title to Remick Ridge as a result of when individuals heard Smothers Brothers wine, they thought one thing like Milton Berle Advantageous Wine or Larry, Curly and Mo Vineyards,” Smothers as soon as mentioned.
They ultimately reunited to star within the musical comedy “I Love My Spouse,” a success that ran on Broadway for 2 years. After that they went again on the highway, taking part in casinos, performing arts facilities and company gatherings across the nation, remaining standard for many years.
“We simply maintain resurfacing,” Smothers commented in 1997. “We’re simply not in everybody’s face lengthy sufficient to actually get outdated.”
After a profitable twentieth anniversary “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1988, CBS buried the hatchet and introduced them again.
The present was rapidly canceled, although it stayed on the air lengthy sufficient for Smothers to introduce the “Yo-Yo Man,” a bit permitting him to exhibit his appreciable expertise with a yo-yo whereas he and his brother saved up a gentle patter of comedy. The bit remained of their act for years.
Smothers married thrice and had three youngsters. He’s survived by his spouse Marie, youngsters Bo and Riley Rose, and brother Dick, along with different kinfolk. He was predeceased by his son Tom and sister Sherry.
Former Related Press journalists John Rogers, Frazier Moore and the late Bob Thomas contributed to this report.