Norman Lear, the legendary television producer who created such groundbreaking series as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time,” has died, CBS News has confirmed. He was 101.
Lear died of natural causes on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles, family spokeswoman Lara Bergthold said said in a statement Wednesday.
Lear, who got his start as a writer for radio and television in the post-war years, was responsible for a string of hit series in the 1970s that broke the taboos of broadcast entertainment and helped define a generation. His shows routinely addressed serious social issues, some rarely seen on television before, from racism, rape and abortion to menopause, homosexuality and religion.
The show that put Lear on the map was “All in the Family,” which premiered on CBS in 1971. It starred Carroll O’Connor as working-class loudmouth Archie Bunker, spouting narrow-minded opinions and raging against social change. He often butted heads with his liberal son-in-law, Michael (played by Rob Reiner), while Archie’s kind-hearted wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), tried to keep the peace.
In aon “CBS Sunday Morning,” Lear said people on both ends of the political spectrum found something to connect with on the show.
“I like to think that what they saw was the folly of the human condition,” he told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook, who is married to Lear’s daughter, Kate.
And while the subject matter was divisive, the audience would be bound by humor. “Being able to laugh in a rehearsal at something you didn’t expect, and then stand to the side or behind an audience and laugh and watch them, their bodies – a couple of hundred people as one – when something makes them laugh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more spiritual moment than an audience in a belly laugh!” said Lear.
“The soundtrack of my life has been laughter.”
The show ran for nine seasons, won 22 Emmy Awards, and was No. 1 in the ratings for five consecutive years. Beginning in 1979, a sequel series, “Archie Bunker’s Place,” ran for four more seasons.
“All in the Family” was followed by the popular and provocative spin-offs “Maude” (starring Bea Arthur) and “The Jeffersons” (starring Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley). Along with laughter, both shows brought stories of women’s liberation and race into millions of living rooms across the country. Another sitcom, “One Day at a Time,” starred Bonnie Franklin as a divorcee battling sexism, chauvinistic bosses and cheating boyfriends while raising two teenage daughters.
Lear’s string of hit TV series also included “Sanford and Son” (with comedian Redd Foxx) and “Good Times,” which broke ground with a mostly black cast but was also accused of promoting racial stereotypes.
He was also the creator of the syndicated “Mary Hartman, Marty Hartman”, a parody of soap operas that starred Louise Lasser; and executive producer of “Hot l Baltimore,” based on the Lanford Wilson stage comedy set in a run-down hotel. Its characters included prostitutes, undocumented immigrants and a gay couple.
Norman Lear was born on July 27, 1922 in Hartford, Connecticut, and his childhood wasn’t just for fun. When he was 9 years old, his father went to prison for fraud for selling fake bonds, and his mother sent him to live with his grandparents.
He later said that his father served as an inspiration for Archie Bunker.
“The intention was to show that there is humor in everything. And I never thought of him as a hater so much as a fearful progressive.”“CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King in 2017.
As a young man he participated Emerson College in Boston on a scholarship before leaving school to serve in World War II. He joined the US Army Air Forces and flew 52 combat missions over Germany and Italy.
After the war he moved to Hollywood and his career in the entertainment industry grew. By the early 1970s, he had reached a level of success and widespread influence that few others could match.
On the big screen, Lear’s production company was behind popular films such as “Stand By Me”, “The Princess Bride” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”. He shared an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay for the 1968 comedy “Divorce American Style.”
The political and social issues he explored on screen also inspired his own activism in liberal circles. In 1981, he co-founder the nonprofit group People For the American Way to advocate for progressive causes and address the division and rift that burdens the nation.
In 2022, Lear wrote in a New York Times op-ed of his optimism in America: “I often feel discouraged about the direction our politics, courts, and culture are taking. But I don’t lose faith in our country or its future. I remind myself how far we’ve come.”
During his long career, Lear garnered a wide range of awards, including six Emmys, a Golden Globe and Hall of Fame in 1984.. He was admitted to the television academy
His website promised, “Norman Lear has no plans to retire,” and he kept that promise as he worked on new projects well into his 90s. In 2017, he launched a “One Day at a Time” reboot on Netflix starring Rita Moreno, and in 2019 and 2020, he teamed up with Jimmy Kimmel to broadcast star-studded live renditions of classic episodes of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times”. Both won Emmys for Outstanding Variety Special.
But when he shed light on discrimination, he often came up against discrimination himself. In 2016 heabout how older characters (like himself) had been relegated to marginal roles on television, playing eccentric neighbors or wise-cracking grandparents. “Where are the people my age?” he said. “There were no shows about us, about our lives, about our attitudes, about our problems.”
He developed a series, “Guess Who Died?”, set in a senior living community. But after filming a pilot, no network executives expressed interest.
As he explained in ato the “CBS This Morning” podcast, wisdom and inspiration can be found in all walks of life: “Someone doesn’t have to be a professor. Someone can just knock on your door, or someone can sell you something on the street … and you’re having a reasonable conversation, and suddenly did you hear something you hadn’t heard before, or something that the person you feel is about just suggests something you haven’t thought of before.”
He often said that throughout his life he was guided by the saying: “Every man is my superior, that I may learn from him.”
On the occasion ofin July 2022, Lear said that “love and laughter” were the secret to his longevity. He also spoke about the impact of love: “The people I have loved and loved me in return. I could not emphasize it more. I have been taken care of and I have kept me and I think that has meant a lot.”
Lear is survived by his wife, Lyn, a filmmaker. He had a total of six children from his three marriages.