Entertainment

Iconic Playwright Neil Simon Dead, 91

Neil Simon, playwright of such comedies as The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys, died Sunday at the age of 91.

Simon died early Sunday of complications from pneumonia at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, said Bill Evans, a longtime friend and spokesman for Shubert Organization theaters.

In the second half of the 20th century, Simon was the American theater’s most successful and prolific playwright, often chronicling middle class issues and fears. Starting with “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1961 and continuing into the next century, he rarely stopped working on a new play or musical. His list of credits is staggering.

Matthew Broderick, who in 1983 made his Broadway debut in Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and his movie debut in Simon’s “Max Dugan Returns,” added: “I owe him a career. The theater has lost a brilliantly funny, unthinkably wonderful writer. And even after all this time, I feel I have lost a mentor, a father figure, a deep influence in my life and work.”

Simon received his first Tony Award in 1965 as best author — a category now discontinued — for “The Odd Couple,” although the comedy lost the best-play prize to Frank D. Gilroy’s “The Subject Was Roses.” He won a best-play Tony 20 years later for “Biloxi Blues.” In 1991, “Lost in Yonkers” received both the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize. And there was a special achievement Tony, too, in 1975.

He wrote two memoirs, “Rewrites” (1996) and “The Play Goes On” (1999). They were combined into “Neil Simon’s Memoirs.”

Simon was married five times, twice to the same woman. His first wife, Joan Baim, died of cancer in 1973, after 20 years of marriage. They had two daughters, Ellen and Nancy, who survive him. Simon dealt with her death in “Chapter Two” (1977), telling the story of a widower who starts anew.

The playwright then married actress Marsha Mason, who had appeared in his stage comedy “The Good Doctor” and who went on to star in several films written by Simon including “The Goodbye Girl,” ”The Cheap Detective,” ”Chapter Two,” ”Only When I Laugh” and “Max Dugan Returns.” They divorced in 1982.

The playwright was married to his third wife, Diane Lander, twice — once in 1987-1988 and again in 1990-1998. Simon adopted Lander’s daughter, Bryn, from a previous marriage. Simon married his fourth wife, actress Elaine Joyce, in 1999. He also is survived by three grandchildren and one great-grandson.

“I suspect I shall keep on writing in a vain search for that perfect play. I hope I will keep my equilibrium and sense of humor when I’m told I haven’t achieved it,” Simon once said about his voluminous output of work. “At any rate, the trip has been wonderful. As George and Ira Gershwin said, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me.'”

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