Carl Reiner Has Died at the Age of 98

Comedy News Carl Reiner
Carl Reiner Has Died at the Age of 98

Comedy legend Carl Reiner—the creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, the director of The Jerk and other films, the longtime comedy partner of Mel Brooks, and a brilliant comedian who was sharing his thoughts on the world through Twitter as recently as last night—has died at the age of 98. His assistant, Judy Nagy, confirmed to Variety that Reiner passed away at home on Monday night. His son, actor and director Rob Reiner, later addressed his father’s death on Twitter.

Carl Reiner’s acting career started during World War II, where he performed throughout the Pacific as part of the Army Entertainment Section. After the war he worked on Broadway for the rest of the ‘40s. In 1950 he was cast on Sid Caesar’s weekly variety program Your Show of Shows, a legendary sketch show whose writing staff included playwright Neil Simon and Mel Brooks. Reiner worked with Caesar on two more shows during the ‘50s, and wrote for one of them, Caesar’s Hour, whose writing staff included Woody Allen and M.A.S.H. creator Larry Gelbart.

Reiner and Brooks teamed up as a comedy duo in 1960 for live performances and appearances on The Steve Allen Show. Together they produced five comedy albums and a 1975 animated special based on their most famous bit, “The 2000 Year Old Man.” If you haven’t seen or heard this legendary sketch, here’s a TV performance of it from 1966. Reiner and Brooks would remain close friends for the rest of Reiner’s life, regularly eating dinner and watching Jeopardy together after they both became widowers.

Reiner’s biggest TV success, though, came in 1961. He was the creator and head writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show, a sitcom based on his time in Sid Caesar’s writers room, and one of the funniest shows of all time. It was a major hit that made Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore into stars. Reiner appeared occasionally as Alan Brady, the tough-to-please TV show host who Van Dyke’s character wrote for. This 60-year-old show holds up amazingly well today, and inspired almost every notable workplace or family sitcom that followed.

Reiner had started acting in films in 1959 (you can see him in Gidget Goes Hawaiian and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, among others), and wrote his first feature (the Doris Day / James Garner comedy The Thrill of It All) in 1963. Three years later he directed his first film, 1966’s autobiographical Enter Laughing, which was based on a novel and play he had written. He directed two more movies by 1970 before returning to TV in 1971 with The New Dick Van Dyke Show, a middling hit that ended after three seasons basically because CBS didn’t want America to know that Dick Van Dyke might occasionally enjoy having sex. In 1976 Reiner was the star of Good Heavens, a short-lived comedy on ABC where he played an angel named, creatively enough, Mr. Angel.

Although Reiner would continue to make guest appearances on TV throughout his life, by 1977 his creative endeavors were mostly focused on film. He directed the 1977 smash hit Oh, God! and 1978’s The One and Only, which starred Henry Winkler as a Gorgeous George-style pro wrestler (and which I desperately have to see RIGHT NOW). With 1979’s The Jerk he started a fruitful relationship with Steve Martin that saw them make four films together over five years. The Jerk, of course, is an absolute classic and legit contender for the title of “funniest movie ever made.” The noir parody Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a hilarious postmodern romp that sees Martin moving throughout footage repurposed from classic black and white crime films. 1982’s sci-fi/horror comedy The Man With Two Brains and 1984’s All of Me, which also co-starred Lily Tomlin, followed, with the latter film wrapping up the Reiner / Martin tandem. Reiner directed two more memorable comedies in the ‘80s—Summer Rental with John Candy and Summer School with Mark Harmon—and four more movies through 1997, but none of them were especially successful, well-received, or all that fondly remembered today.

Reiner spent most of the last two decades appearing in guest roles on TV shows. His most consistent TV work since Mr. Angel was as a regular voice actor on NBC’s short-lived lion cartoon about Siegfried and Roy’s lions, Father of the Pride. He memorably played himself as Bernie Mac’s neighbor in a handful of episodes of The Bernie Mac Show, and popped up in multiple episodes of the sitcoms Hot in Cleveland and Two and a Half Men. In 2012 he did a Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld and guest starred in an episode of Parks and Recreation. He was basically enjoying the life of a revered and mostly retired comedy legend, something he earned.

His most notable work of the last 30 or so years came on the big screen, though. He played veteran con man Saul Bloom in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen. He was also set to appear as Bloom in the spinoff Ocean’s 8, but his scene didn’t make the final cut. His last film role was in 2019’s Toy Story 4, where he teamed up with Mel Brooks once more in a scene starring a team of comedy legends. Reiner voiced Carl Reineroceros, an older toy that had been passed over by its child, alongside Brooks (as Melephant Brooks), Carol Burnett (Chairol Burnett) and Betty White (Bitey White). Reiner reprised the character in the Disney+ short series Forky Asks a Question—his final acting credit.

Reiner was also known for his very active Twitter account, where he revealed himself to be a fierce but hilarious critic of Donald Trump. His last tweets were posted just a few hours before he died; after two last tweets about Trump, he finished off with a handful of thoughts about Noel Coward. His pinned tweet is a fiery condemnation of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.

Few people impacted the direction of comedy in the 20th century more than Carl Reiner. He’ll be missed, and his work will continue to be discovered and loved by audiences new and old for decades to come.

Share Tweet Submit Pin