Tom Smothers, one half of the pioneering singing comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, renowned for blending folk music, humor, and incisive political commentary throughout their six-decade career, has passed away at the age of 86, as announced by his family on Wednesday.
According to a statement from the National Comedy Center, Tom Smothers succumbed to cancer on Tuesday, marking the end of a remarkable creative partnership and lifetime shared with his brother, Dick Smothers.
In the late 1950s, Tom and Dick Smothers began their stage performances, quickly gaining success and making appearances on major prime-time comedy and variety shows. Their unique and often provocative act resonated with audiences, leading to the creation of their own groundbreaking one-hour variety show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” on CBS television in 1967. This show played a pivotal role in influencing future comedy and sketch programs like Saturday Night Live.
Despite their popularity, the Smothers Brothers faced challenges due to their forthright humor and sharp critiques of American culture and the government during the politically charged 1960s. The network canceled their show in 1969, citing clashes with network executives.
Reflecting on their comedic style, Tom Smothers once described their format as original, incorporating folk songs, humorous introductions, and playful sibling rivalry. Their show evolved into a working conversation marked by disagreement, touching on topics such as US politics, social upheaval, and war.
The Smothers Brothers’ influence extended beyond comedy, with their show boasting talented writers like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, contributing to its legendary status in an industry undergoing rapid change.
Comedian Lewis Black, reflecting on their impact, described their show as “huge” and “spectacularly subversive in a splendid way” in a 2019 interview with All Arts TV.