American playwright Neil Simon has passed away at age 91. Picture: Supplied
American playwright Neil Simon has passed away at age 91. Picture: Supplied

Odd Couple playwright dead at 91

ACCLAIMED playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon, the famed creator of The Odd Couple, has died. He was 91.

The prolific writer had been in failing health, suffering from a failing kidney and Alzheimer's disease, according to TMZ, which said he died early on Sunday.

Simon, who was born in The Bronx and grew up in Washington Heights, won a Pulitzer Prize, four Tony Awards, a Kennedy Center honour and a Golden Globe Award.

In 1983, he also became the only living playwright to have a Broadway theatre - the Neil Simon Theatre - named after him.

Celebrities flooded Twitter with tributes to the late playwright.

Simon was working in the mailroom at the Manhattan offices of Warner Bros. when he and his older brother, Danny, broke into the entertainment industry with a radio comedy sketch.

They wrote material for stars including Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle before being hired for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca's legendary TV program Your Show of Shows, joining a stable of comedic scribes that included fellow future legends Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Carl Reiner.

 

American playwright Neil Simon has passed away at age 91. Picture: Supplied
American playwright Neil Simon has passed away at age 91. Picture: Supplied

 

Simon's first play, Come Blow Your Horn, debuted on Broadway in 1961, followed by the 1963 hit Barefoot in the Park and 1965's The Odd Couple, which netted Simon his first Tony and was later adapted into a feature film and a TV series that ran for five seasons and decades of re-runs.

For seven months in 1967, he had four plays running at the same time on Broadwat, marking the first such achievement since the 1920s - and he repeated it during the mid-1980s.

His record of success attracted star actors such as Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Art Carney, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon to his projects, and his 1983 Broadway play Brighton Beach Memoirs featured an up-and-coming Matthew Broderick, who in 1995 joined Nathan Lane for an Odd Couple revival on Broadway - one of several stage and TV remakes.

 

Neil Simon, Michael Douglas and Herbert Ross pose after Simon and Ross each won awards during the Golden Globe ceremony in 1978: Picture: AP
Neil Simon, Michael Douglas and Herbert Ross pose after Simon and Ross each won awards during the Golden Globe ceremony in 1978: Picture: AP

 

Much of Simon's work was mined from his own experience of urban, middle-class life.

"I don't write social and political plays, because I've always thought the family was the microcosm of what goes on in the world," he told The Paris Review in 1992.

In an introduction to one of several anthologies of his plays, Simon wrote that he was "most alive and most fulfilled sitting alone in a room, hoping that those words forming on the paper in the Smith-Corona will be the first perfect play ever written in a single draft."

 

“There are no awards they can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it”. Picture: Getty
“There are no awards they can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it”. Picture: Getty

He expanded on that drive in a 1997 interview with the Washington Post, saying: "I know that I have reached the pinnacle of rewards. There's no more money anyone can pay me that I need. There are no awards they can give me that I haven't won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it."

Simon was married five times, including to actress Marsha Mason, who had appeared in his stage comedy The Good Doctor and went to star in several of his films, including The Goodbye Girl and Chapter Two, which Simon wrote following the 1973 cancer death of his first wife, Joan Baim.

After he and Mason divorced, Simon was married twice to Diane Lander - from 1987 to 1988 and again from 1990 to 1998 - before marrying actress Elaine Joyce in 1999.

In addition to Joyce, he is survived by his two daughters with Baim, Ellen and Nancy, and Lander's daughter from a previous marriage, Bryn, who Simon adopted, as well as three grandchildren and a great-grandson.

This article ws originally published in the New York Post and has been reproduced here with permission.


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