Tom Smothers of Smothers Brothers Fame Has Died

Comedian died of cancer at age 86
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 27, 2023 12:20 PM CST

Tom Smothers, half of the Smothers Brothers and the co-host of one of the most socially conscious and groundbreaking television shows in the history of the medium, has died at 86. The National Comedy Center, on behalf of his family, said in a statement Wednesday that Smothers died Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California, following a cancer battle. When The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour debuted on CBS in the fall of 1967 it was an immediate hit, to the surprise of many who had assumed the network's expectations were so low it positioned their show opposite the top-rated Bonanza, reports the AP.

But the Smothers Brothers would prove a turning point in television history. Their sharp eye for pop culture trends and young rock stars such as the Who and Buffalo Springfield, and their daring sketches—ridiculing the Establishment, railing against the Vietnam War, and portraying members of the era's hippie counterculture as gentle, fun-loving spirits—found an immediate audience with young baby boomers. The show reached No. 16 in the ratings in its first season.

It also drew the ire of network censors, and after years of battling with the brothers over the show's creative content, the network abruptly canceled the program in 1969, accusing the siblings of failing to submit an episode in time for the censors to review. The Washington Post reports Tom Smothers pushed back on that claim and the brothers sued. CBS was ordered to pay them more than $775,000 in damages in 1973.

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NBC News has this statement from brother Dick Smothers: "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. Our relationship was like a good marriage—the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed." (More obituary stories.)

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