Why comedy genius Carl Reiner’s death feels like a punch in the gut

Carl Reiner was one of those pop-culture fixtures whose death feels like a punch to the gut a la Joan Rivers or Robin Williams, who were also supposed to live forever.

Reiner got damn close in that department, passing away peacefully Monday night at age of 98 in his Beverly Hills home. The Bronx-born genius writer/actor/director’s long laundry list of iconic comedy credits included early TV’s megahit “Your Show of Shows,” a witty, urbane sketch/comedy show hosted by Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, “The 2,000 Year Old Man” with Mel Brooks and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” considered by many the best sitcom in TV history. He created the series and also played toupeed, egomaniacal producer Alan Brady.

Later, he moved into semi-retirement but kept busy by writing books, producing and starring in an HBO documentary about nonagenarians called “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” (his motto) and staying active on Twitter. His last tweet was posted just hours before he passed.

I interviewed “Mr. Reiner” (as I addressed him — no “Carl” for such a legend) a handful of times over the past five years and found him always gracious (he often answered his own phone) and eager to reminisce, even on sad occasions. Mr. Reiner took my call when his beloved “Dick Van Dyke Show” co-star Mary Tyler Moore died in January 2017 and, through his obvious sadness, he gamely recalled how special she was (“She had an extreme grace,” he said).

His fondness for Moore was apparent when, in 2018, I called to talk about the now-colorized “Dick Van Dyke Show” episode, “Never Bathe on Saturday,” in which Moore’s Laura Petrie got her toe stuck in a hotel bathroom bathtub spigot. That, Mr. Reiner said, was based on a real-life incident with his beloved late wife, Estelle. “She was playing with the drip” with her toe, he recalled. He was still laughing about it nearly 60 years later. Priceless.

I always found it touching that he and his comedy partner and best friend, “2,000 Year Old Man” Mel Brooks, who turned 94 on Sunday, were still close to the very end. The lifelong friends met on “Your Show of Shows” in the early ’50s and got together frequently, usually at Reiner’s home, to kibbitz and have something to eat. I can’t imagine how Brooks is feeling right now.

And let’s not forget Mr. Reiner’s forays into acting and writing; channel-surf enough and you’ll see him in movies including the 1966 comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” or “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” or as Saul Bloom in George Clooney’s “Oceans Twelve” and “Oceans Thirteen.” He also directed Steve Martin three times in “The Jerk,” “All of Me” (with Lily Tomlin) and noir spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” His talent cannot be measured in words.

When, in 2017, I interviewed Mr. Reiner, then 95, about “If You’re Not in the Obit Eat Breakfast,” here’s what he told me:

“Everybody must read the obits. And I have a little agenda now: I look at the date of people when they passed and say to each on, ‘I got you. I beat you.’”

Now, he’s joined all his friends and family members in Comedy Heaven. That must be a really fun place.

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