Sid Caesar, Pioneer of American Comedy, Dead at 91

2006 TV Land Awards - Backstage and Audience

The actor and writer was best known TV series “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour”

Sid Caesar, the writer, actor and all-around showman who profoundly influenced American comedy from the early days of television and beyond, has died. He was 91.

A representative for Carl Reiner, one of Caesar’s longtime collaborators, confirmed his death to TheWrap. Talk-show host Larry King broke the news of Caesar’s death on his Twitter account:

Born Isaac Sidney Caesar, the actor was best known TV series “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour,” and memorably played Coach Calhoun in the movie “Grease.”

Caesar left home after high school in Yonkers to pursue a music career in the 1930s, and found work here and there playing his saxophone – a skill he’d keep sharp for life. His first taste of comedy came at a hotel in the Catskills, where he played in the dance band and participated in comedy routines.

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JUN 14 1971, JUN 15 1971, NOV 28 1982; Sid Caesar to Open 80th Season at Elitch Theatre; Star remini

A stint in the Coast Guard led him to tour nationally with a service revue, and he moved to Hollywood after the war, reprising his role in a film version of the show for Columbia Pictures. His TV career kicked off with an appearance on Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater,” and his first series, “The Admiral Broadway Revue” was an instant hit on NBC – but only lasted 26 episodes.

In 1950, he appeared in the first episode of “Your Show of Shows,” a 90-minute variety program that aired Saturday nights. The show first brought together the seminal comedy team of Caesar, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and Imogene Coca – as well as breaking the writing careers of future comedy luminaries such as Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Lucille Kallen.

Caesar won his first Emmy for the show in 1952, but it ended two years later. That worked out fine for Caesar: He returned to TV with the one-hour live broadcast “Caesar’s Hour” just a few months later – his first taste of total creative control — bringing along much of his “Your Show of Shows” crew, who famously lampooned pop culture of the time, including movies, theater and other television shows.

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Caesar continued to write and appear regularly in film and television through the decades, including alongside Edie Adams as the husband-and-wife team in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”; in Mel Brooks‘ “History of the World, Part I”; and as Coach Calhoun in “Grease” and “Grease 2.”

He wrote two autobiographies – “Where Have I Been” and “Caesar’s Hours,” which touched on his struggles with alcoholism and barbiturates. He was made an honorary “Saturday Night Live” castmember – the only person to ever receive that honor – during his hosting stint in 1983, and stayed active in the business well into his later years.

See Sid Caesar in the sketch “Big Business” with longtime collaborators Carl Reiner and Howard Morris in the video below: