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Norman Lear, iconic comedy writer, Comedy Center supporter, dead at 101

FILE - Honoree Norman Lear makes his speech at "The Paley Honors: A Special Tribute to Television's Comedy Legends" at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television with such topical hits as "All in the Family" and “Maude” and propelled political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of sitcoms, has died, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.. He was 101. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

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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, Maude, Sanford and Son and during his later years, he had 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 Newhaven, C.T., 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. 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,” said Journey Gunderson, the National Comedy Center, executive director.

From his work on the big screen to helping launch the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, Lear continued to support this 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,” wrote 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 NCC’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 a shaker and mover with the liberal and progressive movements. He championed many leftist 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 fondly remembered by some of the city’s older residents.

“I remember they just had a special on TV about his 100th birthday,” said Abe Goodman, 74, resident of Lakewood. The special Goodman referenced was entitled: Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter and aired on ABC in September 2022.

According to the Associated Press, tributes have been pouring in on social media following the death of TV pioneer Norman Lear, including from Rob Reiner and Quinta Brunson. Reiner, who starred in Lear’s “All in the Family,” wrote that he loved Norman Lear with all his heart. Brunson, who has won Emmys for her show “Abbott Elementary,” says: “My Goat. What a life.” Writer David Simon says Lear changed TV by seeing “what was possible in that vacuous glowing box and, almost singularly, he made it so.” Lear was praised for creating shows like “All in the Family,” “Good Times” and “Maude,” which packed political satire into sitcoms.

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