Tom Smothers, one half of famed comedy duo, dies at 86

Dec 28, 2023, 4:25 PM

Tom Smothers...

Tom Smothers, here in 1987, dies at 86. (Mark Junge/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

(Mark Junge/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Comedian Tom Smothers, who with his brother performed as the singing comedy duo the Smothers Brothers, has died, according to a family statement shared by the National Comedy Center.

He was 86.

Dick Smothers, Tom’s younger brother and professional partner, said his brother was at home at the time of his death related to cancer.

“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 Smothers said in a statement. “I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. Our relationship was like a good marriage – the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed.”

The folk-singing brothers became pioneers with their biting satirical comedy that was at the forefront of their CBS variety show “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which ran from 1967 to 1969.

CBS famously yanked the show from the air after they ran afoul of the network for their political critiques, defense of civil rights and their opposition to the Vietnam War.

“Fifty years later I look back on us being fired and I’m still pissed off,” Tom Smothers said to laughs in a 2019 interview shared by “All Arts TV.”

Smothers was born in 1937, a year before his brother Dick, and the pair grew up in California and began performing after attending San Jose State University.

In an interview with CBS News last year, Tom Smothers said he and his sibling didn’t initially think of themselves as stand-up comedians.

“We thought of ourselves as folk singers,” he explained.

After breaking into TV with their music, their “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” became a hit.

“It was just the biggest thrill, it was unbelievable!” Dick Smothers told CBS News.

Their mix of music, skits and political send ups – with Tom as the bumbling guitarist brother and Dick as the bass-playing straight man – challenged network censors of the time.

The brothers often joked about the criticism they faced for their candor during their comedy hour, but freedom of speech was something they took seriously.

“The right for us not to allow even to give our viewpoints to other people who are interested in hearing it is contrary, I think, to the principle of our country and to the principle that makes the world go round,” Tom Smothers once said on their program.

“The times were changing so quickly in the sixties and we didn’t change them,” Dick Smothers said during an appearance on CNN’s “The Sixties” docuseries.

“We just reflected ‘em,” his brother added.

Their brand of comedy was extremely influential for many in the business, including some who have gone on to become household names.

Early writers on their show included Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Rob Reiner and David Steiner, according to a UC Santa Barbara Library article on preserving their comedic and musical legacy.

After then CBS chief executive officer and president William Paley canceled their show, citing their failure to meet delivery dates for their episode, the brothers successfully sued the network to show they did not breach their contract. The program, however, never returned to air.

In a 2010 interview with CNN, David Bianculli, author of the book “Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,’” said that looking back the series was relatively mild by modern standards, but considered controversial given the family-friendly landscape of the era.

“There was nothing that was serious on TV in prime time,” Bianculli said. “And the Smothers Brothers, in an entertainment variety show, were trying to talk about the war and talk about the presidential policies and sex and drugs and rock and roll. It was just the only place for a young generation to go to get that sort of information.”

Bianculli said Tom Smothers “was the one who fought most of the battles,” something he confirmed in “The Sixties.”

“They said that the social subjects we touched on were not appropriate for the 9 o’clock family viewing hour,” Dick Smothers recalled. “They came up with any excuse to make it difficult.”

“And I came up with any excuse to push it,” Tom Smothers added.

The pair announced last year that they were returning to the stage with a tour in 2023.

A private memorial service for Smothers will take place in 2024, according to the family.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live


Oprah Winfrey...

Jordan Valinsky, CNN

Oprah is leaving WeightWatchers, sending stock tumbling

Oprah Winfrey is leaving the board of WeightWatchers, ending a nearly decade-long stint as a director of the beleaguered company that has faced sudden competition from Ozempic.

1 day ago

FILE - Comedian Richard Lewis attends an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 25, 2012. Lewis...

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press

Comedian Richard Lewis dies after suffering a heart attack

Richard Lewis, an acclaimed comedian known for exploring his neuroses in frantic, stream-of-consciousness diatribes while dressed in all-black, leading to his nickname “The Prince of Pain,” has died. He was 76.

2 days ago

The stage of the Tabernacle Choir as they perform in Manila. (Dan Rascon, KSL News)...

Dan Rascon

Tabernacle Choir performs unforgettable concert in Manila

It was a night not to be forgotten in the Philippines as the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed  its first major concert before thousands of Filipinos at the Mall of Asia’s 9,000 set arena.

3 days ago

students look at a screen...

Sam Herrera, KSLNewsRadio and Mike Anderson, KSL TV

Weber State offers new elective class all about Taylor Swift

Weber State University is offering a new course all about Taylor Swift, and students wasted no time signing up.

3 days ago

Taylor Swift is pictured at the Chiefs-Dolphins playoff game in Kansas City in January. (Ed Zurga, ...

Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

Taylor Swift baked ‘homemade Pop-Tarts’ for Travis Kelce’s teammates, says coach Andy Reid

Thanks to her well-known love of baking, Taylor Swift won over her boyfriend Travis Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs teammates the old-fashioned way: by baking them “homemade Pop-Tarts,” according to the team’s coach Andy Reid.

3 days ago

Jam-Master Jay...

Eric Levenson and Jeff Winter, CNN

2 men found guilty of murder in 2002 killing of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay

Two men were found guilty of murder Tuesday in the 2002 killing of Jam Master Jay, the pioneering DJ of the groundbreaking hip hop trio Run-DMC, in a case that for decades frustrated detectives and music fans alike.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Tom Smothers, one half of famed comedy duo, dies at 86