Playwright Neil Simon, a master of comedy whose laugh-filled hits such as “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park” and his “Brighton Beach” trilogy dominated Broadway for decades, has died. He was 91.
Simon died early Sunday of complications from pneumonia in New York, said Bill Evans, his longtime friend and the Shubert Organization director of media relations.
In the second half of the 20th century, Simon was the American theater’s most successful and prolific playwrights, 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.
The theater world mourned his death, with actor Josh Gad calling Simon “one of the primary influences on my life and career.” Playwright Kristoffer Diaz said simply: “This hurts.”
Simon’s stage successes included “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Plaza Suite,” “Chapter Two,” “Sweet Charity” and “Promises, Promises,” but there were other plays and musicals, too, more than 30 in all. Many of his plays were adapted into movies and one, “The Odd Couple,” even became a popular television series.
For seven months in 1967, he had four productions running at the same time on Broadway: “Barefoot in the Park”; “The Odd Couple”; “Sweet Charity”; and “The Star-Spangled Girl.”
Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995), four Writers Guild of America Awards, an American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement honor and, in 1983, he even had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin was rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre.
In 2006, he won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which honors work that draws from the American experience. The previous year had seen a popular revival of “The Odd Couple,” reuniting Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick after their enormous success in “The Producers” several years earlier.
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.
Simon’s own life figured most prominently in what became known as his “Brighton Beach” trilogy: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound”, which many consider his finest works . In them, Simon’s alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome, makes his way from childhood to the U.S. Army to finally, on the verge of adulthood, a budding career as a writer.
Simon was born Marvin Neil Simon in New York and was raised in the Bronx and Washington Heights. He was a Depression-era child, his father, Irving, a garment-industry salesman. He was raised mostly by his strong-willed mother, Mamie, and mentored by his older brother, Danny, who nicknamed his younger sibling, Doc.
Simon attended New York University and the University of Colorado. After serving in the military in 1945-46, he began writing with his brother for radio in 1948 and then, for television, a period in their lives chronicled in Simon’s 1993 play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”