Buck Henry, Writer of ‘The Graduate’ and Co-Director of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ Dies at 89

Henry also hosted “SNL” 10 times and co-created “Get Smart”

buck henry
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Buck Henry, the actor-screenwriter-director who co-created “Get Smart,” co-wrote “The Graduate” and co-directed the hit 1978 Warren Beatty film “Heaven Can Wait,” died Wednesday night in Los Angeles. He was 89.

Henry died at Cedars-Sinai Health Center following a heart attack, according to his wife, Irene Ramp.

Born Henry Zuckerman in 1930 in New York City, Henry was the son of silent film star Ruth Taylor. He began his entertainment career in the early 1960s as a cast member on TV shows like the “The New Steve Allen Show” and “That Was the Week That Was.” Soon after, he co-created the spy thriller parody “Get Smart” with Mel Brooks, also co-writing several episodes.

Buck Henry Dies at 89 The Graduate SNL
Buck Henry in 1978 (Getty Images)

Though his first film script was for the 1964 movie “The Troublemaker,” in which he also had a minor role, Henry made his name as a screenwriter with “The Graduate,” which he co-wrote with Calder Willingham. Mike Nichols’ film earned him the first of two Oscar nominations.

Henry subsequently worked on several other important films, including “Catch-22” and “The Owl and the Pussycat” in 1970, and “What’s Up, Doc?” in 1972. Other credits from his long career include “First Family,” which he also directed in 1980, “To Die For” in 1995 and “Town & Country” in 2001.

In addition to “Heaven Can Wait,” for which he and Beatty earned an Oscar nomination as Best Director, Henry also directed the 1980 comedy “First Family” starring Bob Newhart as the president, Madeline Kahn as the boozy first lady and Gilda Radner as their twentysomething daughter.

Henry also worked frequently as an actor — memorably, he appeared as a semi-self parody in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” pitching a sequel to “The Graduate.” He became especially notable for numerous appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” Between 1976 and 1980, he hosted the show 10 times, by far the most frequent host during the show’s original era. His hosting record held until 1989, when it was broken by Steve Martin.