Norman Lear, celebrated US TV writer and producer, dies aged 101

<span>Photograph: Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images
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The famed TV writer and producer Norman Lear, known for bringing the world shows like All in the Family and Sanford and Son, died this week, according to a statement posted by his family to his official Instagram. He was 101.

The Connecticut native’s death was confirmed in the New York Times by Lara Bergthold, a spokeswoman for the family. He died at his home in Los Angeles, California.

Lear died “surrounded by his family as we told stories and sang songs until the very end”, according to the statement. “Norman lived a life in awe of the world around him. He marveled at his cup of coffee every morning, the shape of the tree outside his window, and the sounds of beautiful music. But it was people – those he just met and those he knew for decades – who kept his mind and heart forever young.”

Lear entered the zeitgeist in the 70s, with the production of television sitcoms such as All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons and Good Times. Some of his more recent contributions to TV have included the remake of One Day at a Time starring Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, and the revival of Good Times on Netflix.

Before his TV boom, Lear had been a comedy writer and Oscar nominee for his screenplay, Divorce American Style. He went on to come up with the idea – based on the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part – about a conservative working-class man and his raucous family in Queens, New York. That idea later became All in the Family.

The sitcom sent shockwaves through the television landscape when it premiered on CBS on 12 January 1971, with Lear’s signature creation, Archie Bunker, becoming one of the most enduring characters in TV history. A gruff, misanthropic bigot with a list of grievances against many minority groups, Archie, memorably portrayed by Carroll O’Connor, was nonetheless strangely likable and endearing. His bigotry was played for laughs, and also for the tension with his liberal son-in-law Mike, which provided a forum for a number of social topics on screen.

All in the Family dominated ratings throughout its run, ending in 1979. The show established a new template for television comedy, mixing political and social messages as well as some drama with laughter.

Though Bunker was identified as a white Protestant, Lear based the character in part on his Jewish father, Hyman “Herman” Lear, a traveling salesman who was arrested for selling junk bonds when Lear was nine. The character of Edith Bunker, Archie’s devoted wife played by Jean Stapleton, was based on his mother, Jeannette.

The couple raised Norman and their younger daughter, Claire, mostly in Hartford, Connecticut, where Lear graduated from Weaver high school in 1940. He matriculated to Emerson College in Boston but dropped out during his sophomore year to join the army air forces. Stationed in the Mediterranean theater, Lear rose to the rank of technical sergeant and flew 57 missions as a radioman, mostly from a base near Foggia in Italy. He was awarded the Air Medal with four oak clusters.

After the war, with the help of an uncle who was a press agent, he got a job at the publicity firm of George and Dorothy Ross. He lasted a year before getting fired for planting too many demonstrably false stories. With his first wife, Charlotte, Lear relocated to Los Angeles in 1949, where he worked for a time as a traveling salesman with his friend Ed Simmons. The two began writing comedy routines together, eventually writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

Lear would go on to write and produce a number of groundbreaking television series, including The Jeffersons, on an upwardly-mobile Black family; Good Times, which dealt with poverty and racial discrimination; and Maude, about an outspoken feminist, which became the first TV series to include a storyline about abortion.

Lear continued working in comedy into his 90s, with his podcast All of the Above with Norman Lear. He also was active in a number of progressive and liberal causes throughout his life, founding the liberal advocacy organization People for the American Way.

Tributes have been paid by names within the industry including Rob Reiner who wrote: “I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family.”

In a statement, George Clooney said: “It’s hard to reconcile that at 101 years old, Norman Lear is gone too soon. The entire world of reason just lost its greatest advocate and our family lost a dear friend. A giant walked in his shoes.”

The Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson shared: “My Goat. What a life. Rest well, Norman Lear.”

In addition to his wife, Lyn Davis, Lear is survived by their son, Benjamin and daughters, Brianna and Madeline Lear; a daughter from his first marriage to Charlotte Rosen, Ellen Lear; two daughters from his second marriage to Frances Loeb, Kate and Maggie Lear; and four grandchildren.