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Tom Smothers, half of American comedy duo the Smothers Brothers, dies at 86

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Tom Smothers, half of American comedy duo the Smothers Brothers, dies at 86

FILE PHOTO: Comedians and brothers, Tom (L) and Dick Smothers, star of the television series "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Show" accept the Favorite Singing Siblings award at the 3rd annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, California March 13, 2005. The awards show honors classic television shows and performers.

REUTERS/Fred Prouser FSP/File Photo

Smothers and his younger brother, Dick, started out wanting to be folk singers but found success weaving comedy into their act

American comic Tom Smothers, one-half of the musical-comedy duo the Smothers Brothers, died on Tuesday, December 26, at 86 at home in California after being diagnosed with cancer, his family said in a statement released by the National Comedy Center. 

Smothers and his younger brother, Dick, started out wanting to be folk singers but found success weaving comedy into their act, a formula they perfected in 1967 with the CBS show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a precursor of Saturday Night Live and other satirical television shows.

Tom played guitar and Dick played bass, and both brothers sang. Their onstage performance of songs was usually derailed into comedy bits or arguments sparked by Tom.

In his onscreen persona, Tom was the dimwitted, stammering older brother to Dick, spinning elaborate stories of their childhood and his resentment of Dick as their mother’s favored son. When trick-or-treating on Halloween, he joked in one episode, their mother gave Dick a pillowcase in which to amass candy, while Tom had to make do with a sock.

“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. “Our relationship was like a good marriage – the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another.”

Tom Smothers was born in New York City on February 2, 1937. His father, Thomas B. Smothers, was an officer of the US Army who died in 1945 as a Japanese prisoner of war. The family moved to Southern California whileTom and Dick were children.

In interviews, Smothers described how he and his brother fought with network censors at CBS over the three seasons of the Comedy Hour. The show became popular with younger, more liberal viewers in the late 1960s for its acknowledgement of fraught political issues and its booking of performers like Joan Baez who openly opposed the Vietnam War.

Smothers also played acoustic guitar on John Lennon’s 1969 anti-war song “Give Peace a Chance,” Lennon’s first solo single while still a member of the Beatles.

In a statement, the National Comedy Center called Smothers a pioneer and “a true champion for freedom of speech, harnessing the power of comedy to push boundaries and our political consciousness.” – Rappler.com

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