NEW YORK – 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” and straight man to Mel Brooks' “2000 Year Old Man,” 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.
The tall, bald Reiner was 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” and “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
In recent years, he was part of the roguish gang in the “Ocean's Eleven” movies starring George Clooney and appeared in documentaries including “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age” and “If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”
Tributes poured in online, including from Steve Martin, who said: “Goodbye to my greatest mentor in movies and in life. Thank you, dear Carl.” Actor Josh Gad called Reiner “one of the greatest comedic minds of all time,” and Sarah Silverman said “his humanity was beyond compare.” Actor Alan Alda tweeted: “His talent will live on for a long time, but the loss of his kindness and decency leaves a hole in our hearts.” Billy Crystal added “all of us in comedy have lost a giant.”
Reiner directed such films as “Oh, God!” starring George Burns and John Denver; “All of Me,” with Martin and Lily Tomlin; and the 1970 comedy “Where's Poppa?” His books include “Enter Laughing,” an autobiographical novel later made into a film and stage show; and “My Anecdotal Life,” a memoir published in 2003. He recounted his childhood and creative journey in the 2013 book, “I Remember Me.”
But many remember Reiner for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the most popular TV series of all time and a model of ensemble playing, physical comedy and timeless, good-natured wit. It starred Van Dyke as a television comedy writer working for a demanding, eccentric boss (Reiner) and living with his wife (Mary Tyler Moore in her first major TV role) and son.
“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.”
Reiner wrote and starred in the pilot, which 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.
Reiner was the father of actor-director Rob Reiner, who starred as Archie Bunker's son-in-law on “All in the Family” and directed “When Harry Met Sally.” Rob Reiner said in a tweet Tuesday that his “heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”