Tom Smothers, one-half of The Smothers Brothers, has died at the age of 86 following a battle with cancer.
The National Comedy Center announced his death on behalf of the family, with his younger brother Dick Smothers releasing a statement. “Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner,” Dick said. “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.“
The brothers initially wanted to be folk musicians but quickly realized that they weren’t quite good enough. However, once they began adding a little comedy to their act, it took off. “It was a series of performances when we started out as a duet in Aspen. I did all the introductions. I’d just make up stuff for every song,” Tom explained. “And Dickie said, ‘Why don’t you try repeating some of that stuff? I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I didn’t know that you could repeat the stuff. And I started repeating it and Dickie would say, ‘That’s wrong. And pretty soon he’d say, ‘That’s wrong, you’re stupid.’ It sort of became an argument.”
Their success led to The Smothers Brothers Show on CBS, but Tom didn’t feel as though it played to their strengths and wanted more creative control for their next project. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a much bigger success, showcasing a variety of musical guests, including George Harrison, The Who, The Doors, Harry Belafonte, Steppenwolf, Ray Charles, Steppenwolf, and more. The show also featured controversial skits which, while popular with the audience, didn’t exactly please the network executives. The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour was abruptly cancelled after three seasons, but the brothers successfully sued for breach of contract.
“Tom was a true pioneer who changed the face of television and transformed our culture with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director, said in a statement, “which satirized politics, combated racism, protested the Vietnam War, and led the way for Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, today’s network late night shows, and so much more.“