Neil Simon has sadly passed away at the age of 91. The prolific writer was nominated for four Oscars and won three Tony Awards. He is perhaps best known for such legendary works as The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Promises, Promises, The Goodbye Girl and Lost in Yonkers. He will be long remembered for setting a new tone in theatrical comedy, and was a pioneer of the stage and screen.
Simon has more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer in history. He succumbed to complications from pneumonia over the weekend, passing away at a New York-Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan. He leaves behind a body of work that spans over 5 decades and includes 40 plays, quite a few of which were adapted with great success for the big screen. He is considered the most commercially successful American playwright in history.
Neil Simon has the distinction of being the only writer to have four major Broadway productions all running simultaneously, which happened back in the 60s. Along with his Oscar nominations and his Tony wins, Simon also won the Mark Twain Prize for Comedy in 2006 and took home Kennedy Center Honors in 1995.
Not only did Simon make a splash on the stage and screen, he also helped establish modern sitcom writing, working on such 1950s hits as Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and The Phil Silvers Show. His own hit play The Odd Couple would later get a few sitcom adaptations after becoming a very popular movie starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. Jack Lemon had this to say about the characters in Neil Simon's works in a interview from years ago
"Neil has the ability to write characters, even the leading characters that we're supposed to root for, that are absolutely flawed. They have foibles. They have faults. But, they are human beings. They are not all bad or all good; they are people we know."
Neil Simon began writing after joining the Army Air Force Reserve in the 40s. There, he worked for the Army newspaper as a sports editor. He would later attend the University of Denver, honing his craft. His first big writing break came on Your Show of Shows in 1960, collaborating on sketches with his older brother Danny and such prolific writers in their own right that included Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin and Carl Reiner.
Simon and his brother transitioned from the small screen to the stage, writing sketches for To Catch a Star in 1955. He wrote his first Broadway play in 1961 with Come Blow Your Horn. He then wrote Barefoot in the Park in 1963, which starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. That same year, Paramount Pictures turned Come Blow Your Horn into a movie starring Frank Sinatra with an adapted screenplay by Norman Lear. The film was directed by Bud Yorkin.
Simon would go onto adapt Barefoot in the Park himself, with the movie hitting theaters in 1967. He also adapted The Odd Couple in 1968, Last of the Red Hot Lovers in 1972; The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1975, and The Sunshine Boys in 1975, which won George Burns an Oscar.
In 1981, Smon would adapt his stage play The Gingerbread Lady into the movie Only When I Laugh, which was nominated for three Oscars. Out of his works thus far, The Odd Couple proved to be his biggest financial win, and the movie was turned into an ABC sitcom that ran from 1970 to 1975 and starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. The show was rebooted in 2015 on CBS starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon.
Neil Simon didn't just adapt his stage plays for the screen. He also wrote a couple of movies, including 1972's The Heartbreak Kid and 1977's The Goodbye Girl, the later of which was in turn adapted into a Broadway musical in 1993. He also wrote the book for such musicals as Sweet Charity, Little Me and Promises, Promises.
Simon made a trilogy of autobiographical plays that included Brighton Beach Memoirs in 1983, Biloxi Blues in 1985 and Broadway Bound in 1986. Then came Lost in Yonkers in 1991, which starred Kevin Spacey. Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues got turned into two hit movies in the 80s. Broadway Bound was adapted as a TV movie. And Lost in Yonkers hit screens in 1993 just two years after the play came out.
Neil Simon is survived by his daughters Ellen, Nancy and Bryn, three grandchildren and one great-grandson. Neil Simon's death was reported by The Hollywood Reporter.