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Carl Reiner, writer-director-actor and 'Dick Van Dyke' creator, dies at 98, assistant says

Writer-comedian Carl Reiner poses in his new hairpiece

Writer-comedian Carl Reiner poses in his new hairpiece in Los Angeles on May 25, 1967. Credit: AP/Harold Filan

Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a “second banana” to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy’s front ranks as creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” has died. He was 98.

Reiner’s assistant Judy Nagy said he died Monday night of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, California.

His son, actor-director Rob Reiner, said in a tweet on Tuesday that his "heart is hurting. He was my guiding light."

Carl Reiner was one of show business’ best liked men and a welcome face on the small and silver screens: In Caesar’s 1950s troupe; as the snarling, toupee-wearing Alan Brady of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and in such films as “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.”

But for many, he is best remembered for "The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the most popular TV series of all time and a model of ensemble playing. “The Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal,” Reiner once said. “It was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar show."

The pilot, written by Reiner, starred himself as Rob Petrie, and aired in July 1960. When the show was reworked (CBS executives worried Reiner would make the lead character seem too Jewish), Van Dyke was cast and the program ran from 1961 to 1966. The story line had Petrie as the head writer for “The Alan Brady Show,” a comedy-variety series not unlike “Your Show of Shows,” in which Reiner, as Brady, was the egocentric star.

Reiner had joined the classic comedy revue “Your Show of Shows” in 1950 after performing in Broadway plays. Much of Reiner’s early work came as a “second banana” — although, as Caesar once put it, “Such bananas don’t grow on trees.” He performed in sketches — satirizing everything from foreign films to rock ‘n’ roll — and added his talents to a writing team that included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart.

It was during the “Show of Shows” years that Reiner and Brooks started improvising skits that became the basis for “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Reiner was the interviewer, Brooks the old man and witness to history.

After the pair performed a routine at a party, Reiner said Steve Allen insisted they turn their banter into a record. The album, “2000 Years With Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,” appeared in 1960 and was the start of a million-selling franchise.

The duo won a Grammy in 1998 for their “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000” and Reiner won multiple Emmys for his television work. In 2000, Reiner received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor. 

Reiner was born in 1922, in the Bronx, one of two sons of Jewish immigrants. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood, where he learned to mimic voices and tell jokes. After high school, Reiner attended drama school, then joined a small theater group.

During World War II, Reiner joined the Army and toured in GI variety shows. Back out of uniform, he landed several stage roles, breaking through on Broadway in “Call Me Mister.”

He married his wife, Estelle, in 1943. The couple had another son, Lucas, a film director, and a daughter, Sylvia, a psychoanalyst and author. Estelle Reiner, who died in 2008, had a small role in Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally …” as the woman who overhears Meg Ryan in a restaurant and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Reiner, inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame, remained involved in other entertainment projects. In the 1990s, he reprised the Alan Brady character for an episode of “Mad About You.”

His death was first reported Tuesday by celebrity website TMZ.

During his nearly seven-decade career, Carl Reiner wore many hats working in films and television Here are some highlights.

TELEVISION

"Your Show of Shows" (1950-54) actor

"Caesar's Hour" (1954-57) writer and actor

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66) creator, writer and actor (as Alan Brady)

"The New Dick Van Dyke Show" (1971-74) creator, writer and director

"Lotsa Luck" (1973-74) creator and writer

"The 2,000-Year-Old Man" (1975) writer and actor

"Mad About You" (1995) as Alan Brady (Emmy win)

"The Larry Sanders Show" (1997) as himself

"Comedians in Cars With Coffee" (2012) as himself

MOVIES

Actor

"The Gazebo" (1959)

"The Thrill of It All" (1963) also wrote screenplay

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963)

"The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming" (1966)

"Ocean's Eleven" (2001)

Director

"Enter Laughing" (1967) also co-wrote screenplay

"The Comic" (1969) also co-wrote screenplay

"Where's Poppa?" (1970)

"Oh, God!" (1977)

"The Jerk" (1980)

"Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982) also co-wrote screenplay

"All of Me" (1984)

"Fatal Instinct" (1993)

ALBUMS

"2,000 Years With Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks" (1960)

"The 2,000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000" (1999) best spoken comedy album Grammy

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