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February 13, 2014

TV comedy pioneer Sid Caesar dies at 91

LOS ANGELES — Carl Reiner remembers Sid Caesar as a great flame who drew comedy writer "moths" including Mel Brooks and Neil Simon to his side.

The genius of 1950s TV comedy is illuminating television even today. Shows from "Saturday Night Live" to sitcoms owe a debt to Caesar's brilliant interpretation of material by Brooks, Simon, Woody Allen and Reiner himself, among others.

He was "inarguably the greatest pantomimist, monologist and single sketch comedian who ever worked in television," Reiner said of the actor-comedian, who died Wednesday at his Los Angeles area home after a brief illness. He was 91.

"Your Show of Shows," 1950-54, with co-star Imogene Coca, and "Caesar's Hour," 1954-57, were his major achievements.

"He was one of the truly great comedians of my time and one of the finest privileges I've had in my entire career was that I was able to work for him," Allen said in a statement.

While Caesar's sketch comedy lives on in shows like "SNL," his emphasis on humor born out of human nature is part of comedies such as "Modern Family," said longtime friend Eddy Friedfeld. He and Caesar wrote the 2003 biography "Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter."

Among Caesar's TV staff writers, Friedfeld noted, several went on to create memorable sitcoms, including Reiner's "Dick Van Dyke Show," based on his "Your Show of Shows" experiences, and Larry Gelbart's "M-A-S-H."

While Caesar was best known for his TV shows, which have been revived on DVD in recent years, he also had success on Broadway and occasional film appearances, notably in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

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