‘The world lost a legend’: Hollywood remembers prolific TV producer Norman Lear
Hollywood is mourning Norman Lear, the massively influential TV producer best known for groundbreaking, socially conscious sitcoms including “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and “One Day at a Time.” He died Tuesday at 101.
One of the most successful and prolific producers in American TV history, Lear was also a committed political activist known for his staunch support of liberal causes and for using his TV shows, the most prominent of which aired in the ‘70s and ‘80s, to tackle then-controversial subjects such as abortion, interracial marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.
The multiple Emmy-Award-winning writer-producer and liberal political activist revolutionized prime-time television in the 1970s with groundbreaking, socially relevant situation comedies such as ‘All in the Family,’ ‘Maude’ and ‘The Jeffersons.’ He was 101.
On X, formerly Twitter, Lear’s family announced his death and said that “he lived a life in awe of the world around him. He marveled at his cup of coffee every morning, the shape of the trees outside his window and the sounds of beautiful music. But it was people — those he just met and those he knew for decades — who kept his mind and heart forever young.”
To honor his contributions to TV, tonight CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX and the CW will simulcast an in memoriam card at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
CBS, the network that was home to many of Lear’s most celebrated shows including “Maude,” “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” issued a statement celebrating his “profound influence on television.”
“He was a creative icon whose comedic and courageous perspective on the America he loved had an immeasurable impact on our network, our viewers and television overall,” read the statement. “His funny, realistic and fearless approach to storytelling rang true in his sharp writing and rich characters. He redefined the sitcom by introductions topics that had previously been avoided, including race, poverty and sexism. And he did it all with wit and heart, making it relatable to millions of Americans.”
In his comedies, Norman Lear made disagreement a form of patriotism. Now, the society he depicted is so polarized that love of debate seems quaint.
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted and conceived the idea for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” a series of TV specials featuring well-known actors performing live re-creations of classic episodes of “The Jeffersons” and “All in the Family,” issued a statement about Lear’s passing.
“It is obviously silly to want more time with a person who outlived a whole century but losing Norman Lear, even at 101 years old, feels unfair. His bravery, integrity and unmatched moral compass were equaled by his kindness, empathy, and wit,” said Kimmel in the statement. “Norman was very proud of the fact that the so-called Reverend Jerry Falwell dubbed him, ‘The number one enemy of the American family.’ The opposite was true. More than anyone before him, Norman used situation comedy to shine a light on prejudice, intolerance, and inequality. He created families that mirrored ours, showing us a world in which Archie Bunker and Michael Stivic could learn to not only co-exist, but to love one another. As a young man, Technical Sergeant Lear flew 52 combat missions over Nazi Germany. He continued to fight for freedom all the way to the end of his life on earth. Even at 101, Norman cared as much about the future, our children, and planet as anyone I have ever known. He was a great American, a hero in every way and so funny, smart, and lovely [a] man you almost couldn’t believe it. The privilege of working alongside Norman and the opportunity he gave me and my wife to get to know him and his beautiful family has been among the great honors and pleasures of my life. We were all very lucky to have him.”
In a statement to The Times, actor Rita Moreno, who starred in the reboot of “One Day at a Time,” said, “I am cut to the quick and already lonesome for my dear friend, Norman. Our nation has lost a treasured looking glass. By his reflected wit we were disarmed enough to see our wrinkles. And he wasn’t promoting makeup but heart transplants.”
Norman Lear sits with a script in his left hand and a yellow pencil in the other.
Actor Marla Gibbs, who played maid Florence Johnston in “The Jeffersons,” also remembered Lear in a statement to The Times. “The loss of Norman Lear, my hero, is devastating. I know he was at an age where transition was more than possible, but still, I was not accepting it. Norman always said that laughter added years to one’s life and credited me with adding to his, but it was because of Norman that everybody knows my name and he has definitely added years to mine. Long as I’m living, I will always remember and appreciate his loving nature, his humor, his brilliance and his friendship. Norman’s shows tackled issues that were revolutionary for the times. His spirit and his legacy will always live on. Thank you, Norman, for the inspiration you gave to all of us! Love U, Marla Gibbs.”
Actor-producer Kerry Washington, who played Helen Willis in a live performance of “The Jeffersons,” also reflected on Lear’s death. “The world lost a legend last night,” she said on X, formerly Twitter. “My heart goes out to all his family, friends and countless fans. Dearest Norman, thank you for making us laugh, and think, and understand and LOVE each other more. Thank you for using humor to make us better. Heaven just got a lot brighter...”
Filmmaker Rob Reiner, who starred as Archie Bunker’s hippie son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic, in “All in the Family,” also shared his thoughts on X: “I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was. my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family.”
Other prominent names have shared their thoughts on Lear’s legacy:
George Clooney: “It’s hard to reconcile that at 101 years old, Norman Lear is gone too soon. The entire world of reason just lost its greatest advocate and our family lost a dear friend. A giant walked in his shoes.”
Tyler Perry: ”Not long ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my heroes. He invited me to lunch at his home and as we sat and talked and laughed, I got a chance to tell him how he had helped save my life. I shared with him that he taught me to dream a bigger dream by his example. He was 100 years old at the time, but sharp as ever. Full of wisdom and great advice, and I took it all in. Just before I left, I asked, ‘At 100 years old what are you looking forward to?’ Without any hesitation he said, ‘Tomorrow.’ It was such a simple but powerful lesson to live your life fully one day at a time. And ‘One Day at a Time’ just happened to be the name of one of his many hit TV shows along with ‘Maude,’ ‘All in The Family,’ ‘Good Times,’ ‘Sanford and Son’ and so many other incredible shows. They were the only thing that brought laughter and joy to me as a child, who was living a daily nightmare. I’m so glad that I had the chance to say to him, thanks to his vision and his work, he gave me many ‘tomorrows’ to look forward to. So today, sadly, I say goodbye and I salute a veteran. One who asked me to help put together a moment for him to say thank you to the surviving Redtail Tuskegee Airmen, he wanted to thank them for the escorts they provided him and others during World War II, which I did with Robin Roberts on ‘GMA.’ It felt good to be able to do something for him.
“A hero and someone who inspired me to try and bring as much laughter to the world as he bought to the little boy that I was. You sir are truly one of one! I’m so glad we were on the planet at the same time. Thank you for your example. Rest in peace my dear friend, I thank God for you. My prayers are with your family.
“Travel well, Mr. Norman Lear.”
Jane Fonda: “Today is a very sad day. Norman Lear, a man who meant a lot to many on a personal level and who changed the face and soul of American comedy, has passed. My heart is heavy. I loved Norman.”
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