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Television Comedy Pioneer Sid Caesar Dies at 91

Caesar made his mark on Broadway as seven different characters in the musical ''Little Me''. logo
Sid Caesar records a track for the original Broadway cast recording of Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, and Neil Simon's musical Little Me in 1962.
(© Sony Music Entertainment)

Sid Caesar, one of the pioneers of American television comedy, has died at the age of 91.

Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1922. His now-legendary career began as a Coast Guard officer, writing sketches for the organization's musical revue, Six On, Twelve Off, and later appearing in the Coast Guard musical Tars and Spars. After befriending producer Max Liebman and moving to Hollywood, Caesar returned to New York and began appearing at the Copacabana.

In 1948, Caesar made his Broadway debut in Make Mine Manhattan, a revue that played the Broadhurst Theatre for 429 performances and earned him the 1948 Donaldson Award. The next year, he made his television debut in the Admiral Broadway Revue, where he first worked with Imogene Coca, his soon-to-be costar on Your Show of Shows.

Launching in 1950, the 90-minute live television show is widely credited with popularizing the sketch-comedy format, featuring a roster of writers that included Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Neil Simon. Caesar won two Emmy Awards and was a source of inspiration for later works by many of his old staffers. Simon would turn his into the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor; Brooks would executive-produce a similar film, My Favorite Year; and cast member Carl Reiner would bring his familiarity of the subject matter to The Dick Van Dyke Show, which featured Reiner as a Caesar-esque figure.

In 1963, Caesar returned to Broadway as seven different characters in Little Me, a musical by Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, and Neil Simon that was largely built around his skill set as a performer. He received a Tony Award nomination for his work. Later Broadway credits include Abe Burrows' short-lived Four on a Garden (opposite Carol Channing and George S. Irving) in 1971, and the 1989 revue Sid Caesar and Company, which also played 72 performances at the Village Gate. Caesar's many screen credits include Grease and Grease 2, and Mel Brooks' Silent Movie and History of the World, Part 1, among others.

Ceasar was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1985 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Television Critics Association in 2011. He is survived by his and his late wife Florence's three children.