Norman Lear, TV Producer Behind 'All in the Family,' and 'The Jeffersons,' Dead at 101

The Emmy-winner died on on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes.

Norman Lear -- legendary Emmy-winning writer, producer and TV creator of All in the Family, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, Good Times, and numerous hit sitcoms -- has died, ET has confirmed. He was 101. 

Lara Bergthold, a spokeswoman for the family, told ET in a statement that Lear died "after a lifetime of laughter" on Tuesday, at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes.  A private service for immediate family will be held.

"Thank you for the moving outpouring of love and support in honor of our wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Norman lived a life of creativity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. Knowing and loving him has been the greatest of gifts. We ask for your understanding as we mourn privately in celebration of this remarkable human being," the Lear family shared in a statement.

In September 2020, Lear broke his own record as the oldest Emmy winner in history. His legacy in television was a far cry from his early days. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1922 to a convicted criminal who spent three years in prison for fraud and a stay-at-home mom, Lear wasn't immediately drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood.

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He dropped out of college to join the Army during World War II and worked as a publicist and door-to-door salesman before he began comedy writing alongside his cousin's husband, Ed Simmons, in the early 1950s. Working as business partners, Lear and Simmons penned sketches for comedic duo Jerry Lee Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Martin and Lewis Show. In 1954, Lear was hired to write on the struggling sitcom Honestly, Celeste!, although the series was canceled after only eight episodes. 

Lear moved on to producing the variety series The Martha Rye Show, and worked as a writer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. By the end of the '50s, Lear introduced his first series, The Deputy, starring Henry Fonda. The Western-themed series lasted for two seasons. 

Throughout the '60s, Lear wrote TV specials and screenplays, including The Danny Kaye Special, Three to Get Ready, and Justice for All, the latter of which was an unaired 1968 pilot starring Carroll O'Connor that later became All in the Family. Lear went on to earn an Oscar nomination for the 1967 comedy Divorce American Style.

Lear's other breakout hit series, Sanford and Son, made its debut in 1972. The half-hour sitcom, led by comedians Red Foxx and Desmond Wilson, aired for six seasons and was inspired by the British sitcom Steptoe and Son. The original series was centered around a London junk dealer and his son, but Lear's version featured a predominately Black cast and took place in Watts, California.

It's safe to say that the '70s were a vibrant and successful decade for Lear, who churned out multiple hit shows such as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Fernwood Tonight, One Day at a Time, Good Times, What’s Happening!!, Maude and The Jeffersons, both of which were spinoffs of All in the Family. Lear also wrote and executive produced the 1977 film, The Little Rascals, among other film credits. 

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All in the Family premiered in 1971 and aired for nine seasons. The sitcom was based on the British series Till Death. The Emmy-winning sitcom’s protagonists, Archie Bunker (played by O’Connor) and Edith Bunker (played by Jean Stapleton), were partially inspired by Lear’s parents. Meanwhile, The Jeffersons, starring Sherman Helmsley and Isabel Sanford, debuted in 1975 and remained on air for 11 seasons, becoming one of the longest-running sitcoms in TV history. The series earned 14 Emmy nominations, with only two wins, one being for Sanford, who became the first Black actress to earn an Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.  

The sitcoms created, written, and produced by Lear and his former business partner, Bud Yorkin, were groundbreaking multi-camera shows shot in front of a live studio audience that tackled racism and religion, politics, and women’s rights. After parting ways with Yorkin in the mid-1970s, Lear founded the production company T.A.T. Communications with talent agent Jerry Perenchio, followed by Act III Communications in 1986.

In addition to covering the television landscape, Lear’s Act III Communications released ‘80s cult classics Fried Green Tomatoes, Stand By Me, and The Princess Bride. Although Lear boasted several hit shows in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the spark simmered throughout the next two decades. Despite creating and producing 704 Hauser, Sunday Dinner, a.k.a. Pablo, and a number of other shows, none of them reached the status of some of Lear’s earlier projects, though he continued executive producing a bunch of documentaries and short films, and T.V. movies.

Lear's hard work got him inducted into the T.V. Hall of Fame in its inaugural year. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Peabody Award, multiple Emmys, an Academy Award nomination, and the National Medal of Arts honor. In 2017, Lear was among the honorees of the annual Kennedy Center Honors. Lear was active in politics as well. He founded the activist group People for the American Way, and was known to be vocal with political criticisms. His work even landed him on President Nixon's "Enemies List."

Besides forging one of the most successful careers in Hollywood, Lear was married three times, first to Charlotte Rosen from 1943 until 1956. The marriage produced Lear’s eldest child, Ellen. After the split from Rosen, Lear married writer and editor Francis Loeb. The couple, who welcomed two daughters, Kate and Maggie, wed in 1956 and separated in 1983. Their divorce was finalized three years later, with Francis receiving a whopping $112 million settlement. Lear and his third wife, Lyn Davis, married in 1987 and have three children together: son Benjamin and twin daughters Madeline and Brianna. 

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In 2017, Lear joined the streaming era as executive producer of the Netflix comedy One Day at a Time, a reboot of his earlier sitcom with a Latin cast. Netflix canceled One Day at a Time in 2019, but thanks to fans, the series was picked up by Pop TV. In 2019, Lear and his production company collaborated with Jimmy Kimmel to reboot live versions of The Jeffersons and All in the Family. The one-night-only television extravaganza, starring Woody Harrelson, Marissa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Wanda Sykes, Will Ferrell and Kerry Washington, dominated the ratings with a combined 15 million viewers during its initial airing.

"Clearly, there is still a large demand for multi-cam comedy on subjects we care about deeply," Lear said of the ratings feat. 

In 2021, Lear accepted the third-ever Carol Burnett Award for TV excellence at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

After an introduction, narrated by Wanda Sykes, showcasing his contributions to the TV landscape, Lear -- appearing virtually -- accepted the honor with grace and charm.

"To accept an award, this award, in the name of Carol Burnett, I could not feel more blessed," Lear shared. "I am convinced that laughter adds time to one's life, and nobody has made me laugh harder, there's no one I owe more time to than Carol Burnett."

"I've had a lifetime of partners, performers, associations and creative talents for which I am eternally grateful," he said "There would be an entirely different Norman Lear here with you tonight it if were not for those years of Ed Simmons and Norman Lear that were responsible for the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour... that would be true for every step of my career."

Lear went on to list and thank many of his past and present collaborators -- most recently, Brent Miller -- who were all "major parts of the life and career that brought me to this very moment."

Lear finally thanked his family, sharing, "At close to 99, I've never lived alone, I've never laughed alone, and that has as much to do with my being here today as anything else I know."

"Once more, thank you and bless you, Carol Burnett, for everything you have meant to me by way of joy, surprise, delight, and laughter. As I think about you and laughter and the joy of parallel careers, I'm so glad we had this time together," Lear concluded, tugging on his ear as a tribute to Burnett's famous gesture that she's used over the years as a subtle but iconic message to her grandmother.

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Lear never let age slow him down and continued working regularly well into his nonagenarian years. Speaking to ET during an episode of his Podcast One show with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as guests, Lear talked about defying age presumptions.

"The cultural expectation is all wrong about aging," he shared. "It's all about pains and aches, and isn't enough about expectations and tomorrows, and excitement for this and for that, and the other thing. It's not about [being] alive. It's about dying."

Lear is survived by his wife, Lyn Davis Lear; his six children -- Ellen Lear, Kate Lear, Maggie Lear, Ben Lear, Madeline Lear, Brianna Lear; and his four grandchildren -- Daniel, Noah, Griffin and Zoe.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, Lear requested that contributions be made to People For the American Way.  His family has requested privacy at this time.


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