Tom Smothers dead at 86: Comedy legend and one half of iconic comedy duo the Smothers Brothers passes away after battle with cancer

Photo of author
Written By Maya Cantina
  • His brother Dick Smothers, 84, announced that his brother and co-star passed away at home surrounded by family in Sonoma County, California on Tuesday 
  • Tom and Dick began performing as the Smothers Brothers in 1959 
  • Dick said: ‘Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner’
  • Dick and his wife Marie have requested that memorial donations honoring Tom be made to the National Comedy Center 

Tom Smothers – who is one half of iconic comedy duo the Smothers Brothers – has passed away at 86 after a battle with cancer.

His brother Dick Smothers, 84, announced that his brother and co-star passed away at home surrounded by family in Sonoma County, California on Tuesday.

Dick said: ‘Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner. 

‘I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. 

Tom Smothers – who is one half of iconic comedy duo the Smothers Brothers – has passed away at 86 after a battle with cancer; he is pictured in November 2003

His brother Dick Smothers, 84, announced that his brother and co-star passed away at home surrounded by family in Sonoma County, California on Tuesday; the brothers are seen in January 2010

His brother Dick Smothers, 84, announced that his brother and co-star passed away at home surrounded by family in Sonoma County, California on Tuesday; the brothers are seen in January 2010

‘Our relationship was like a good marriage – the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed.’

Dick and his wife Marie have requested that memorial donations honoring Tom be made to the National Comedy Center.

Tom and Dick began performing as the Smothers Brothers in 1959 as they wanted to be folk musicians but the older brother did not feel he was good enough to be a professional museum but was funny enough to comedy.

The late star previously talked about making that pivot in an interview with Comedy Couch as he said: ‘It was a series of performances when we started out as a duet in Aspen. I did all the introductions. I’d just make up stuff for every song. 

‘And Dickie said, “Why don’t you try repeating some of that stuff?” I said, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know that you could repeat the stuff. And I started repeating it and Dickie would say, “That’s wrong.” And pretty soon he’d say, “That’s wrong, you’re stupid.” It sort of became an argument.’

Tom first appeared on television on The Steve Allen Show in 1961 before a role on a single episode of Burke’s Law.

The two siblings then hit it big as they starred in their own CBS sitcom titled The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965 to 1966.

They then landed another variety show on CBS that turned into an instant success – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which debuted in 1967.  

The series featured performances by the likes of the Who and Buffalo Springfield as well as edgy sketches mocking the Establishment and hitting back against the Vietnam War.

The siblings pictured in 1968

The siblings pictured in 1968

They then landed another variety show on CBS that turned into an instant hit - The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which debuted in 1967; Tom pictured with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey when The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

They then landed another variety show on CBS that turned into an instant hit – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which debuted in 1967; Tom pictured with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey when The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 

The brothers pictured

The brothers pictured 

Baby boomers embraced the show, and its debut season landed in No. 16 in the ratings department.

However, the show was also controversial with network censors, who took issue with their lampooning of the war and other political issues. 

The eyebrow-raising content included a controversial religious sermons done by David Steinberg and impersonation of President Nixon by David Frye, according to The Hollywood Reporter. 

The censoring also included the removal of performances of Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – an anti-Vietnam War song by Pete Seeger – and Harry Belafonte’s Don’t Stop The Carnival, a performance which included a video collage of rioting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, according to THR.

‘Their antics turned television upside down, blending slapstick humor with political satire, making them comedic heroes who blazed the trail followed today by satirists such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee,’ Marc Freeman penned in his introduction for an oral history of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for THR.

Ultimately, they returned to CBS in 1988 with a revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; pictured 1988

Ultimately, they returned to CBS in 1988 with a revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; pictured 1988

‘It was the first show to deal with the White House, Congress, war, counterculture, drugs, civil rights,’ Dick Smothers remarked in the oral history piece. ‘We were the first in and first out. We made comedy for TV relevant and not just escapism. We nailed it.’

In 1970, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was cancelled suddenly by the network, who accused the brothers of failing to meet a censors deadline. During this time period, the Nixon administration had asked the FCC to monitor for content it believed to be inappropriate, according to THR.

The brothers sued CBS following the cancellation and sought $31 million. Ultimately were given $775,000. Their legal fight against CBS was the subject of the documentary, Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. 

‘Dickie and I always get pissed off when people say we were canceled,’ Tom said in his THR oral history. ‘We were fired. Death can come in two ways, natural causes and murder. We were murdered.’ 

Dick said: 'Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner. I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years'; they are seen in Washington in October 2002

Dick said: ‘Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner. I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years’; they are seen in Washington in October 2002

The Smothers brothers pursued separate paths during the 1970s before returning to entertainment in 1978 with the Broadway play I Love My Wife.

Their subsequent work included playing at casinos, corporate events and performing arts centers around the U.S., according to AP.

Ultimately, they returned to CBS in 1988 with a revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

This round lasted for just 16 episodes before it was cancelled.

Tom continued garnering roles as an actor during the 90s and 200s, with roles in Suddenly Susan, The Informant, and even played himself for a 2009 episode of The Simpsons. 

In a statement released by the National Comedy Center following his death, Tom was referred to as ‘a true champion for freedom of speech’. 

Tom and Dick Smothers are seen performing in Chicago back in February 1983, they began performing as the Smothers Brothers in 1959

Tom and Dick Smothers are seen performing in Chicago back in February 1983, they began performing as the Smothers Brothers in 1959

National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson  said in a statement: ‘Tom Smothers was not only an extraordinary comedic talent, who, together with his brother Dick, became the most enduring comedy duo in history, entertaining the world for over six decades – but was a true champion for freedom of speech, harnessing the power of comedy to push boundaries and our political consciousness. 

‘Tom was a true pioneer who changed the face of television and transformed our culture with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which satirized politics, combated racism, protested the Vietnam War, and led the way for Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, today’s network late night shows, and so much more.’

The National Comedy Center – a museum based in Jamestown, New York – is the nation’s official cultural institution dedicated to comedy which has showcased the career and legacy of the Smothers Brothers. 

The brothers have quite a draw to the museum as in 2019 the two reunited on stage ‘to celebrate their legendary careers, and we are honored to preserve Tom’’ remarkable work and legacy here at the National Comedy Center for generations to come.’

Smothers was married three times. He is survived by his children Bo and Riley Rose Smothers, grandson Phoenix, Marcy Carriker Smothers, wife Marcy Carriker Smothers, sister-in-law Marie Smothers, and several nephews and a niece. He is predeceased by his son Tom and sister Sherry Smothers. 

CancerCalifornia

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

Leave a Comment

egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr