Tom Smothers, one of the most popular comedians of all time who, alongside his brother Dick, co-hosted the groundbreaking "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," has died at the age of 86. The National Comedy Center, speaking on behalf of his family, announced on Wednesday that Tom Smothers passed away at his residence in Santa Rosa, California, following a battle with cancer.
In a heartfelt statement, Dick Smothers, Tom's younger brother and the other half of the renowned comedy duo, expressed his deep sorrow. "Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life; he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner. I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years," said Dick Smothers. "Our relationship was like a good marriage—the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed."
Debuting on CBS in the fall of 1967, "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" defied expectations by becoming an instant hit, even surpassing the highly-rated "Bonanza." The show marked a turning point in television history, capturing the attention of young baby boomers with its keen observations of pop culture trends and daring sketches that critiqued the Establishment, protested the Vietnam War, and celebrated the spirit of the hippie counterculture.
Despite its success, the show faced constant battles with network censors. In 1970, after years of creative clashes, CBS abruptly canceled the program, alleging the brothers failed to submit an episode for censorship review in time. Tom Smothers' wit remained sharp even in the face of adversity, as evidenced by his 2008 Emmy Awards speech, where he humorously thanked the writers who, according to him, got him fired.
Legacy and Legal Battles
Following the cancellation, the Smothers Brothers took legal action against CBS, suing for $31 million. Ultimately, they were awarded $775,000. The struggles with the network were later chronicled in the 2002 documentary "Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.".
Born on February 2, 1937, on Governors Island, New York, Tom Smothers spent his early years helping his mother after his father's capture by the Japanese during World War II. The family later moved to Redondo Beach, California, where Tom and Dick honed their comedic routine that combined folk music with sibling rivalry.
Life Beyond Comedy
Tom Smothers' influence extended beyond comedy with his efforts in the wine business, launching Remick Ridge Vineyards in Northern California. After a brief separation in the 1970s, the brothers reunited, starring in the Broadway hit "I Love My Wife." Despite occasional setbacks, including the cancellation of a revived "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1988, the duo remained popular for decades.
Tom Smothers, survived by his wife Marie, children Bo and Riley Rose, and brother Dick, leaves behind a legacy that goes beyond laughter, resonating with a generation that embraced their unconventional, socially conscious comedy.