Tony award-winning US playwright Neil Simon dies at 91

Reuters
USA Published: Aug 27, 2018, 06:28 AM(IST)

Screenwriter Neil Simon at the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, California April 6, 1998. Photograph:( Reuters )

US playwright Neil Simon, who became one of Broadway's most prolific and popular playwrights as he combined humour, drama and introspection in works such as 'The Odd Couple,' 'The Goodbye Girl' and 'Lost in Yonkers,' died on Sunday at the age of 91, his representatives said.

Simon died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City of complications from pneumonia, Broadway theatre representatives DKC/O&M said in a statement on Sunday.

Simon was admitted to the hospital a few days ago and the pneumonia was in his lungs, Simon's longtime publicist Bill Evans said in a Sunday phone interview. Evans said he gave Simon a kidney in 2004.

"It was wonderful to be in his life and for him to be in my life," Evans said, calling Simon a major figure in American culture. "It has been so great to be part of all of it."

Simon drew on his tumultuous New York Jewish upbringing in many of his works.

A new Simon play almost every theatrical season was a Broadway staple from 1960 through the mid-1990s, placing him in the ranks of America's top playwrights. He wrote more than 40 plays that were funny, moving and immensely popular - sometimes shifting from slapstick to melodrama with the turn of a phrase.

At one point he had a record four plays running simultaneously on Broadway.

Simon was called "not just a show business success but an institution" by one New York critic. While his voice and comedy were decidedly East Coast and often reflected an ethnic Jewish experience, Simon's works played to packed houses around the world.

He won Tony Awards for 'The Odd Couple,' 'Biloxi Blues' and 'Lost in Yonkers' and a fourth for his overall contribution to American theatre. He was nominated for 13 other Tonys.

"Lost in Yonkers" (1990), a painfully funny story about the relationship between an abusive mother and her grown children, also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1991.

Simon's childhood was marred by the breakup of his parents. At first, he was reluctant to draw on that pain, fearing it would make his plays too dark.

Later in his career, he would use his own painful experiences, such as in the semi-biographical 'Brighton Beach Memoirs,' to give his work more depth.

But being entertaining was his primary goal. Simon's plays made him a wealthy man and many were turned into films, which made him even wealthier and earned him four Academy Award nominations. Among his works appearing on movie screens were 'Barefoot in the Park,' 'Plaza Suite,' 'Brighton Beach Memoirs,' 'Biloxi Blues' and 'Broadway Bound.' 'The Odd Couple' was even made into a successful television sitcom.

Early Simon works were sometimes deemed too sentimental or commercial by critics but as his career entered its third decade, the plays grew more serious, more mature. 

Marvin Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in the New York City borough of the Bronx, son of Irving, a garment salesman, and Mamie Simon.

After attending New York University and the University of Denver and serving in the US Air Force Reserve, Simon and his mentor, older brother Danny Simon, worked together in the 1940s writing comedy sketches for radio performer Goodman Ace.

Simon and Danny, whose living arrangements once inspired Neil's 'The Odd Couple,' then moved to television, working with such popular entertainers as Sid Caesar, Phil Silver and Jackie Gleason, and with other writers including Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.

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