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February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar, comic genius of 1950s television, dies at 91

LOS ANGELES — Sid Caesar, the prodigiously talented pioneer of TV comedy who paired with Imogene Coca in sketches that became classics and who inspired a generation of famous writers, died early Wednesday. He was 91.

Caesar died at his home in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness, family spokesman Eddy Friedfeld said.

In his two most important shows, "Your Show of Shows," 1950-54, and "Caesar's Hour," 1954-57, Caesar displayed remarkable skill in pantomime, satire, mimicry, dialect and sketch comedy. And he gathered a stable of young writers who went on to worldwide fame in their own right - including Neil Simon and Woody Allen.

"The one great star that television created and who created television was Sid Caesar," said critic Joel Siegel on the TV documentary "Hail Sid Caesar! The Golden Age Of Comedy," which first aired in 2001.

While best known for his TV shows, which have been revived on DVD in recent years, he also had success on Broadway and occasional film appearances, notably in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

If the typical funnyman was tubby or short and scrawny, Caesar was tall and powerful, with a clown's loose limbs and rubbery face, and a trademark mole on his left cheek.

But Caesar never went in for clowning or jokes. He wasn't interested. He insisted that the laughs come from the everyday.

"Real life is the true comedy," he said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press. "Then everybody knows what you're talking about." Caesar brought observational comedy to TV before the term, or such latter-day practitioners as Jerry Seinfeld, were even born. In one celebrated routine, Caesar impersonated a gumball machine; in another, a baby; in another, a ludicrously overemotional guest on a parody of "This Is Your Life."

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