Norman Lear, All In The Family Creator, Dead At 101

In a sad turn of events, renowned television writer and producer Norman Lear has died at age 101 on December 5, 2023. The legendary writer and producer, who created some of television's most iconic sitcoms, leaves behind his wife Lyn Davis, and six children. Lear's family released a heartfelt message confirming the news. "Norman lived a life of creativity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all," they wrote in a statement obtained by Variety. He died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home.

Prior to his death, Lear celebrated his monumental 100th birthday on July 27, 2022. As a way to ring in his landmark achievement, the talented producer encouraged people to live in the moment via an Instagram post. "I've been doing breakfast thoughts, and I guess my breakfast thought at the moment... is the moment," he said. "And what that means to me is living in the moment. The moment between past and present, present and past, the moment between after and next." 

With over six decades of work, it's safe to say we have a lot of ground to cover regarding Lear's remarkable life. 

Norman Lear's college career was interrupted by war

Before becoming one of the entertainment industry's leading fixtures in television, Norman Lear came from humble beginnings. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, the beloved industry professional was raised in a Jewish household helmed by a colorful set of parents. In his 2014 memoir, "Even This I Get to Experience," he described his mother as a "world-class narcissist" and opened up about how, at age 9, his father did a stint in jail for fraud. He wrote it was around this time he started to sense the "foolishness of the human condition."

Although he experienced a somewhat traumatic upbringing, Lear persevered and began his collegiate journey in 1940 as a student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. During his time at the institution, the talent was active in various extracurricular activities across campus, including theatre. "I didn't expect to come to Emerson. I didn't expect to go to college because I was a kid during the Depression," he told Emerson Today in 2018.

However his academic career took a drastic turn in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lear recounted that he was in the middle of rehearsal for the play "Two Orphans" at the time of the historic event. "Somebody came running down a fire escape saying that [on the] radio [they] said it just bombed Pearl Harbor," he explained. Shortly after the attack, Lear enrolled in the service, pausing his eventual rise within the entertainment sphere.

Norman Lear started off in PR before TV career

After completing his military service, Norman Lear set his sights on returning to his creative roots. To get his foot in the door, the talented TV writer started out in the press relations industry after seeking a job from his Uncle Jack, per The Hollywood Reporter. "But I worked for a better of a year, and I got fired. I was making $40 a week, a kid publicist," he told the publication.

After getting fired, Lear landed in New York as a TV writer for legendary stars like Jerry Lewis and Martha Raye. However, he soon shifted his focus to creating his own TV projects after finding out about residuals. "That's when I learned that when you do a taped show, a situation comedy, you own something. So I determined to do one," he told Variety.

His realization led him to his first TV hit, "All In The Family," which followed a blue-collar man and his family in the ever-changing landscape of the 70s. With his newfound success, Lear created new sitcoms like "Sanford and Son," "Maude," "The Jeffersons," and "Good Times." While each show garnered notoriety for its comedy, Lear and his properties also received praised for showing a spotlight on diverse families and characters. Due to his groundbreaking series, Lear received various awards for his contributions, including five Emmys, a Peabody and the Golden Globe's Carol Burnett Award. "I could not feel more blessed," he said in a social media statement, as reported by Entertainment Weekly.

Norman Lear has two ex-wives and six children

Aside from his expansive career as a legendary TV writer and producer, Norman Lear had lived quite a passionate life — which he often used as inspiration for his hit series. Before he settled down with his wife Lyn Davis, the beloved talent was married twice. In 1944 Lear married his first wife, Charlotte Rosen, who gave birth to his first child Ellen. In his memoir "Even This I Get to Experience," he described Charlotte as a "great-looking girl" who "seemed like fun" when they first dated. However, in 1956, their union ended, and soon after, Lear married his second wife, Frances Loeb, per CNN. During their three-decade marriage, the couple welcomed two children, Maggie and Kate.

Lear even incorporated Frances into his professional life by loosely crafting his hit "Maude" character after the publishing executive. "I was very much part of his thinking. Norman could not have done his shows without me," she told The New York Times. After dealing with numerous relationship obstacles, the couple officially divorced in 1985, resulting in a $100 million divorce settlement being awarded to Frances.

While his first two marriages ended in divorce, Lear found happiness with his third wife, Lyn, who he married in 1987. Over the course of their 30-plus-year relationship, the two welcomed three children, Brianna, Madelaine and Benjamin. In an interview with Closer Weekly, Lear praised his relationship with Lyn stating: "I love the way she loves me. I'm one just one selfish cat."

Norman Lear was dedicated human rights activist

Even though Norman Lear achieved many accomplishments throughout the 70s, and 80s, the "One Day at a Time" creator continued to make waves well within his Golden Years. After including an abortion storyline in his hit series "Maude," Lear remained a fierce supporter of abortion rights. "Women have proven that they are up to any task set before them and more than capable of deciding their own futures," he stated in a 2016 opinion piece for CNBC.

Lear's advocacy wasn't limited to just abortion rights. In 1997, the "All in the Family" writer and his wife Lyn Lear formed the Lear Family Foundation, which supports various organizations like ACLU, Rainforest Alliance, and Planned Parenthood, per Variety. Alongside his philanthropy, Lear also made headlines for his opinions concerning political officials like former President Donald Trump. Before the reality star was in office, Lear described Trump as a "not well man" in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. "It angers me that the media doesn't call attention to the fact that he can be described in psychological terms," he added.

His disdain for Trump continued to make headlines well within his presidency. In 2017, Lear refused to accept his Kennedy Center Honors award in person due to the White House's involvement. "I could never turn my back on the [Kennedy Center]... Of course, I'm accepting the honors. What I'm not accepting is the [White House] reception," he said via Twitter. Fortunately, he attended the event after Trump skipped out on the ceremony.

The world reacts to the death of Norman Lear

Since the news of Norman Lear's death, fans of the beloved TV producer have released heartfelt tributes to the groundbreaking creative. One fan tweeted: "May his memory be a blessing." Another fan wrote: "Thank you for so many hours of wonderful entertainment over the years and for teaching me so many lessons along the way."

Even though Norman Lear is no longer here, his expansive career, advocacy, and philanthropy will always remain constant in the entertainment industry and beyond.