Norman Lear, Iconic Writer And Comedy Center Supporter, Dead At 101
Norman Lear, producer of TV’s “All in the Family” and influential liberal advocate, has died at 101.
Lear was an acclaimed American screenwriter and producer who produced, wrote, created or developed more than 100 shows. Lear was known for creating and producing numerous popular 1970s sitcoms, including “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son.” During his later years, he continued to actively produce television, including the 2017 remake of “One Day at a Time” and the Netflix revival of “Good Times” in 2022.
Additionally, while Lear was a native of New Haven, Conn., he had strong ties to Jamestown.
“Norman Lear revolutionized the television landscape, pushed societal boundaries and transformed our culture with groundbreaking comedies that addressed serious issues and offered sharp social commentary while being remarkably funny — appealing to broad audiences for over five decades,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center, executive director.
“He was a creative pioneer and true genius, who believed strongly in the power of laughter to unite us and supported the non-profit mission of the National Comedy Center. We are proud to celebrate his extraordinary work for generations to come.”
From his work on the big screen to helping launch the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, Lear continued to support the area years after the Comedy Center opened.
“Lear also participated in our National Comedy Center celebration of George Schlatter at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles in October 2022 via video,” said Gary Hahn, NCC’s vice president of marketing. “We have interviews with Norman Lear that are shown throughout the exhibits at the National Comedy Center as well.”
Lear also took part in the Comedy Center’s historic tribute to comedian George Carlin on what would have been his 83 birthday, May 12, 2020. The show, titled “Laughing Matters” streamed live and featured a star-studded lineup which included the likes of Lewis Black, Jim Norton, Tommy Chong and George Lopez and other comedic geniuses.
Nationally, Lear was part of the liberal and progressive movements. He championed many causes and brought African American actors into the mainstream media by revolving several unique and funny shows around them as the main characters or protagonist. The Jeffersons, Sanford and Sons and All in the Family (which showcased Herman Hemsley as George Jefferson). Furthermore, beginning in the 1970s, he donated large sums of funds to progressive causes, and in 1980 he founded People for the American Way, an organization aimed at countering the influence of the Christian religious right wing in politics. This life-long liberal supporter championed the “lefts” causes because growing up as a child, he said, because of hearing an antisemitic preacher on the radio as a child, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s website.
Additionally, Lear was a United States military veteran of WWII. Becoming a radio operator and gunner with the U.S. Army Air Corps, 772nd Bomb Squadron, 463rd Bomb Group of the Fifteenth Air Force in 1942, he served on a B-17 bomber named “Umbriago” by its crew, after the comedian Jimmy Durante’s catchphrase. He flew 52 combat missions and received the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. Lear was discharged from the Army in 1945.
Lear transitioned after the war to the role of a public relations specialist, before making the move to California and launching his writing, producing and creating career.
Locally, Lear is remembered by some of the city’s older residents.
“I remember they just had a special on TV about his 100th birthday,” said Lakewood resident Abe Goodman, 74. The special Goodman referenced was entitled: Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter and aired on ABC in September 2022.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.