Comic great Sid Caesar of "Your Show of Shows" dies at 91

Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:23pm EST
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By Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sid Caesar, who pioneered TV sketch comedy during the 1950s as the star and creative force of "Your Show of Shows," a launch pad for the likes of Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Woody Allen and an inspiration to generations of comedians, died on Wednesday. He was 91.

Caesar, in failing health for at least a year, died at his home in Beverly Hills, where he had continued to receive visitors, reminisce and tell jokes, according to friends and collaborators, including Reiner.

Although most of today's television audience is too young to remember him from the height of his popularity, Caesar's work and imprint live on in pop culture touchstones as diverse as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," the box-office hit "Grease" and "Saturday Night Live."

With a career on TV, film and stage that spanned six decades but was marred by years of substance abuse, he is best-known for his work with comedienne Imogene Coca on the landmark "Your Show of Shows." NBC aired the show from February 1950 to June 1954.

One of the most ambitious and demanding of all TV enterprises, "Your Show of Shows" was 90 minutes of live original sketch comedy broadcast every Saturday night, 39 weeks a year. It is widely considered the prototype for every U.S. TV sketch comedy series that followed, including "Saturday Night Live."

"SNL" alumnus Billy Crystal remembered Caesar as "the greatest sketch comedian of all time" and "my first comedy hero and "inspiration." Crystal recalled a visit with Caesar in which "he got to run lines with him from 'Your Show of Shows.' One of the great moments of my life."

"All those who want to be funny should study his work," Crystal added.

Eddy Friedfeld, who helped Caesar write his 2003 autobiography "Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter," said, "He was a unique talent, and he was a pioneer of television and entertainment when television was in its infancy."   Continued...

Legendary comedian Sid Caesar (R) accepts the TV Land Pioneer award presented by friend and comedian Billy Crystal (L) during a taping of the TV Land awards show March 19, 2006 in Santa Monica, California. REUTERS/Fred Prouser