August 26, 2018
Author of The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys won a Pulitzer and four Tonys, and dominated Broadway for many years
Neil Simon, giant of American stage, dies aged 91
The Pulitzer and Tony-winning playwright Neil Simon has died, it was announced on Sunday. He was 91.
Simon was prolific – his hit plays and musicals included The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, The Sunshine Boys, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues, which made Matthew Broderick a Broadway and Hollywood star. He was also a prolific author of screenplays, including successful adaptations of The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. A standard Broadway joke had it that only William Shakespeare wrote more hit plays.
Simon won the Pulitzer in 1991, for Lost in Yonkers, three Tony awards and one for special achievement, and the Mark Twain prize for humour. He was nominated for four screenplay Oscars without winning, but was a Kennedy Center honoree and had a Broadway Theater, the Alvin, named for him in 1983.
In 1997, he told the Washington Post: “I know that I have reached the pinnacle of rewards. There’s no more money anyone can pay me that I need. There are no awards they can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it.”
Simon wrote comedy. Born in the Bronx in New York in 1927, he learned his trade in the city, writing jokes for comics including Sid Caesar, whose staff also included the young Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
It was rich soil in which to grow: in his Paris Review interview, published in 1994, he remembered “the screaming and fighting – a cocktail party without the cocktails, everyone yelling lines in and out, people getting very angry at others who were slacking off”.
Among the first tributes on social media on Sunday, the Seinfeld and Borat writer Larry Charles bracketed Simon with Woody Allen and Brooks as “three very similar and yet very different pillars of modern American comedy in the seventies (think Annie Hall, Blazing Saddles and the Odd Couple) … all … still deeply influential today”.
The Star Wars actor Mark Hamill called Simon a “GIANT of the American Theatre”; Vincent D’Onofrio said he was a “genius”; Elaine Paige said: “He truly was the king of Broadway comedy.”
News of Simon’s death came a day after it was announced that John McCain, the Repubican senator and presidential nominee, had died in Arizona, of brain cancer, at the age of 81.
Neil Simon, giant of American stage, dies aged 91
The veteran broadcaster Dan Rather switched from discussing McCain’s life and legacy to write: “Neil Simon brought a unique eye for life to stage and screen. Through sharp characters and dialogue, he prodded us – in laughter and tears – to contend with the traits that make us human. Another voice who understood the power of art in our American story now belongs to eternity.”
Bill Evans, a longtime friend and press agent for Simon and director of media relations at the Shubert Organization, a Broadway powerhouse, told reporters Simon died in a Manhattan hospital early on Sunday, of complications from pneumonia.
In 2004, when Simon was 76 and going through dialysis, Evans gave him a kidney.
“We’ve been friends for 25 years,” Simon told the New York Times. “It’s wonderful of him to do this.”
Asked what he knew about such transplants and how he had decided to take such a huge step for his friend, Evans echoed accounts of Simon’s career.
“You hear nothing but success stories,” he said.
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