The “good death” of Carl Reiner

Denny O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, and me

Carl ReinerIt appears that Carl Reiner had a good death on June 29. The 98-year-old was productive and vital until the very end.

This is very clear as I was watching If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast, the 2017 documentary for which Reiner was nominated for an Emmy. I caught it on July 3.

He “tracks down several nonagenarians [and older] to show how the twilight years can be rewarding.” The participants included Fyvush Finkel, who died before the release; the recently deceased Kirk Douglas; Betty White; Dick Van Dyke, with his much younger wife Arlene; Norman Lear; and naturally, his friend of 70 years, Mel Brooks. Here’s the preview.

I’m pleased to note that my daughter has watched all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Carl Reiner created, and which I love. Of course, he played the irritable TV star, Alan Brady, as well as the budding English anti-existentialist Yale Sampson, and several other annoying characters.

Not like his characters

But as Mark Evanier noted: “Carl Reiner was the friendliest, most talented person in show business… He was a guy I admired not just for his fine work as a writer, producer, director, and performer but for just the way he was as a person. Every time I was around him, he was an absolute delight – funny, engaging, willing to talk with anyone about anything. He was just what you’d want an idol to be. He was a role model for how to be truly successful and sane in show business.”

Yes, Carl Reiner was an actor (Ocean’s 11 franchise, Hot in Cleveland) and director (Oh, God; The Jerk; All of Me). But mostly he was a writer, going back to 1950s television, with Sid Caesar and Dinah Shore. He co-wrote and directed Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and The Man with Two Brains (1983).

I had wished he would have been selected for the Kennedy Center Honors, like his friends Mel Brooks had been in 2009 and Norman Lear in 2017. It may be that he was underappreciated as the straight man, such as the interviewer of Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man.

Other recent deaths of note

Dennis O’Neil, who died June 11, was a comic writer who I admired greatly. His Green Lantern/Green Arrow with Neal Adams made the book relevant. He also did work on Iron Man and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Somewhere in my possession is a photo of O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, Augustus Manly (Matt at the time), me, and a fifth person at the comic book store FantaCo in Albany. Denny and David were working on Daredevil at the time, so this had to be 1984 or 1985. He was quite pleasant, but I might have been a bit awestruck.

Hugh Downs, who passed away on July 1, was a constant presence in my television watching the last third of the 20th century. He hosted the game show Concentration (1958-1968), which BTW I was very bad at. Downs also co-hosted The Today Show (1962-1971).

With Barbara Walters, he co-hosted the news show 20/20 from 1978 until his retirement in 1999. In 1984, “he was certified by the Guinness World Records as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours).”

The reference to the “good death”, incidentally, comes from Paul McCartney explaining the song The End of the End from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full.