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Neil Simon, Legendary American Playwright Behind The Odd Couple, Has Died

Simon is also the author of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Sweet Charity.

Prolific playwright Neil Simon has died at the age of 91.
(© David Gordon)

Neil Simon, one of America's foremost playwrights, has died at the age of 91. His wife, Elaine Joyce Simon, was at his bedside along with his daughters, Ellen Simon and Nancy Simon.

Born Marvin Neil Simon in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, the playwright grew up in Washington Heights. His father, Irving Simon, was a garment salesman, while his mother, Mamie Simon, was a homemaker. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School at 16 and quickly signed up for the Army Air Force Reserve. He was assigned to the Lowry Air Force Base in 1945 and attended the University of Denver for a yearlong period shortly thereafter.

With his brother, Danny, Simon took a job writing radio scripts for the series The Robert Q. Lewis Show. This led to their hiring at The Phil Silvers Show and Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, where he worked alongside the likes of Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, among others. Simon received Emmys for both of those writing jobs and told of his experiences in his 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

Simon transitioned into playwriting in the 1960s. His first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, played 678 performances at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1961. He followed that up with Barefoot in the Park in 1963 and the Tony Award-winning The Odd Couple in 1965, which later became a popular film and television series. He won a Tony Award for that comedy and cemented his reputation as one of Broadway's important young playwrights.

All told, he collected three Tony Awards for his plays, receiving the two others for 1985's Biloxi Blues and 1991's Lost in Yonkers, for which he also received the Pulitzer Prize. His many other plays include Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, and The Sunshine Boys. During his career, it was not unusual for Simon to have two Broadway shows running concurrently, sometimes three, and once, in 1966, he had four (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, and The Star-Spangled Girl).

Also an accomplished librettist for musical theater, Simon penned the books for the musicals Little Me, Sweet Charity, Promises, Promises, The Goodbye Girl, and They're Playing Our Song. Additionally, Simon worked as an uncredited script doctor on several musicals, most notably A Chorus Line.

Simon's last original play in New York was 2003's Rose's Dilemma. He was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, as well as a winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

In 1983, he became the only living playwright to have a Broadway theater named in his honor.


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