Norman Lear, Creator of ‘All in the Family’ and Countless Other Iconic Shows That Changed TV, Dies at 101

Lear also produced “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and more

Norman Lear 100 Years of Music & Laughter
ABC

Norman Lear, creator of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and countless other iconic shows that changed the face of TV and American culture at large, has died. He was 101.

Lear died Tuesday at his Los Angeles home of natural causes, his publicist told TheWrap.

Beginning in the 1970s, Lear produced a string of hit comedies that dominated ratings while openly tackling issues of family, culture and race – and he never slowed down. In 2019, he became the oldest ever Emmy winner, then broke his own record in 2020 for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” featuring reenactments of episodes from “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.”

Lear breathed new life into the sitcom form, touching on hot-button political topics while winning over mainstream audiences. He earned a total of six Primetime Emmy Awards over the course of his decades-long career.

An outspoken activist for progressive political causes, Lear also founded the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way to counteract what he saw as the influence of emerging Christian conservative groups like the Moral Majority.

After getting his start in public relations, Lear found a new career as a comedy writer in Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s, working on shows like “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ 1950s TV variety show.

He earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for the 1967 comedy “Divorce American Style.” After directing the 1971 Dick Van Dyke feature “Cold Turkey,” Lear returned to TV to pitch a comedy about a blue-collar family whose members reflected some of the divisive political and social issues of the day.

That show, “All in the Family,” became a ratings juggernaut that won multiple Emmy Awards — including four for Lear as lead producer in the Best Comedy category. The show made a star out of Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, a crotchety working-class man from Queens, New York, who bristles at the shifting cultural mores of his sweet-natured wife (whom he sometimes disparaged as a “dingbat”), his feminist daughter and his daughter’s “Meathead” counterculture-loving husband.

“All in the Family” led to a host of successful spinoffs — “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and “Archie Bunker’s Place” — many of which challenged prevailing American opinions on topics like racism, poverty, abortion and homosexuality.

Lear’s other 1970s credits include the Redd Foxx sitcom “Sanford and Son,” the satirical soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and “One Day at a Time,” which starred Bonnie Franklin as the divorced mother of two teenage daughters. That show spawned a 2017 reboot focused on a Latinx family that ran for four seasons on Netflix and Pop TV.

In 2021, Lear accepted the Carol Burnett Award at the Golden Globes for his career achievements and contributions to television. “I could not feel more blessed,” Lear said from his home during the virtual ceremony. “I am convinced laughter adds time to one’s life and no one has made me laugh harder, nobody I owe more time to than Carol Burnett and the brilliant team that helped her realize her comedic genius.”

Lear, who bought one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence in 2001 and toured it around the world, spoke frequently about his dedication to American democracy.

“When I was a kid we had civics classes. I so bemoan that we don’t study civics anymore,” he told TheWrap in 2016. “People don’t know what the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, what the Declaration of Independence promised me as a member of a Jewish minority. I don’t compare it with what Blacks or other minorities suffer. But, to some degree, it helped me — to be a little Jewish kid, who heard (the anti-Semitic and pro-fascist preaching of) Father Coughlin on the radio, and I understood that this country said, ‘Unh-unh, not here.’”

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