‘All in the Family’, ‘The Jeffersons’ producer Norman Lear dead at 101


Norman Lear, one of the most prolific producers in television history, has died at 101.

Lear’s official website confirmed the news, saying “Lear transformed television and shaped American culture” — and that’s not hyperbole.

Lear shepherded television classics like All in the Family and its spin-offs Maude and The Jeffersons, as well as hits like Sanford and Son and Good Times.

When Lear turned 100 in 2022, much of Hollywood turned out to celebrate his life and legacy, with the special Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear dropped out of Boston’s Emerson College in 1942 to join the military, serving in the Mediterranean theater in World War II as a B-17 radio operator and gunner. He flew 52 combat missions, for which he was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters.

He was discharged from the Army, and in 1950, his television career began. He and his writing partner Ed Simmons got a job writing for The Ford Star Revue, but after just four shows, Jerry Lewis snatched up to the duo to write for him and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour.

Lear also wrote for the big screen, snagging an Academy Award nomination in 1967 for Divorce, American Style.

However, 1970s television belonged to Lear: 1971 saw the launch of All in the Family; 1972, its first spin-off Maude as well as the Redd Foxx show Sanford and Son; in 1974, the Chicago-set Good Times, and in 1975 the Family spin-off The Jeffersons, as well as One Day at a Time.

On January 12, 1971, CBS debuted his comedy All in the Family, and the show soon broke ground. In what would become a Lear trademark, it used comedy to broach hot-button issues like race relations, the war in Vietnam, abortion, gay rights, and rape.

As Archie Bunker, a cantankerous, bigoted World War II veteran, Carroll O’Connor clashed weekly with Rob Reiner as his onscreen liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic. One of the secrets of the show’s success, experts have said, was that each side of the political divide had someone to cheer for. All in the Family earned Lear a shelf full of awards, including four Emmy Awards for Best Comedy series as well as the Peabody Award in 1977.

All in the Family led to the spin-offs Maude and The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker’s Place and later the short-lived Gloria, starring Family’s Sally Struthers as a now single mom.

Maude starred Bea Arthur as Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker’s cousin, who clashed with Archie on the occasions she visited 704 Hauser Street. The spin-off continued the Lear tradition of infusing social commentary into a sitcom format; in one much talked-about episode, Arthur’s character debates the fate of an accidental pregnancy and ultimately decides to get an abortion.

The Jeffersons centered on the Bunkers’ African American neighbors, after they “moved on up” from Queens to the East Side. To a de-luxe apartment in the sky, point of fact. Like Bunker, Sherman Hemsley’s equally hard-headed self-made man George Jefferson clashed with his more progressive son Lionel, and a world that was changing around him.

In 1974, Lear created Good Times, about an African American family in Chicago; the series tackled issues like poverty, drug use, and inner-city crime. Lear’s Midas touch also brought a British import, Steptoe and Son — here titled Sanford and Son — to small screen success.

1976 birthed another Lear creation, the satirical soap sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

Lear was also an activist, and in 1980 created the non-profit People For the American Way, which was dedicated to supporting the Bill of Rights and to monitor violations of constitutional freedoms. According to his personal website, Lear also founded the non-profit charity Business Enterprise Trust and the Environmental Media Association, designed to get the entertainment industry more “green.”

In 1999, President Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts on Mr. Lear, expressing, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.”

Still thriving as he approached 100, Lear in recent years shepherded both a Latina-skewing remake of One Day at a Time for Netflix, and successful, star-studded stagings of both All in the Family and The Jeffersons on ABC’s well-received LIVE From a Studio Audience specials. He also hosted a podcast called All of the Above with Norman Lear.

Married three times, Lear is survived by his third wife, Lyn, and his six children — Ellen, Kate, Maggie, Benjamin, Brianna, and Madeline — as well as grandchildren Daniel, Noah, Griffin, and Zoe.

“Norman lived a life of curiosity, tenacity, and empathy,” his family said in a statement. “He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. He began his career in the earliest days of live television and discovered a passion for writing about the real lives of Americans, not a glossy ideal.”

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