Vale: Tom Smothers

Vale: Tom Smothers

Pioneering US comedian Tom Smothers, who co-hosted The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour with brother Dick, has died, aged 86.

The US National Comedy Center, on behalf of his family, said in a statement that Smothers died at home inCalifornia, following a cancer battle.

“I’m just devastated,” Dick Smothers, said. “Every breath I’ve taken, my brother’s been around.”

When The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour debuted on US television in 1967 it was an immediate hit, to the surprise of many who had assumed the network’s expectations were so low it positioned their show opposite the top-rated Bonanza.

But the Smothers Brothers would prove a turning point in television history, with its sharp eye for pop culture trends and young rock stars such as The Who and Buffalo Springfield, and its daring sketches — ridiculing the Establishment, railing against the Vietnam War and portraying members of the era’s hippie counterculture as gentle, fun-loving spirits — found an immediate audience with young baby boomers.

“We were moderate. We were never out there,” Dick Smothers said.

“But we were the first people through that door. It just sort of crept in as the ’60s crept in. We were part of that generation.”

The show also drew the ire of network censors. After years of battling with the brothers over the show’s creative content, the network abruptly cancelled the program in 1970, accusing the siblings of failing to submit an episode in time for the censors to review.

During the three years the show was on television, the brothers constantly battled with CBS censors and occasionally outraged viewers as well, particularly when Smothers joked that Easter “is when Jesus comes out of his tomb and if he sees his shadow, he goes back in and we get six more weeks of winter.”

In another episode, the brothers returned blacklisted folk singer Pete Seeger to television for the first time in years. He performed his song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” widely viewed as ridiculing President Lyndon Johnson. When CBS refused to air the segment, the brothers brought Seeger back for another episode and he sang it again. This time, it made the air.

After the show was cancelled, the brothers sued CBS for US$31 million ($45 million) and were awarded $775,000.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour screened in Australia on ABC.

Source: Nine News