Tom Smothers of music-comedy duo Smothers Brothers dies; 86

Tom Smothers of US music-comedy duo The Smothers Brothers dies at 86

/ 01:46 PM December 28, 2023

Tom Smothers

Actor Tom Smothers poses in the press room during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre on Sept. 21, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. Tom Smothers of the groundbreaking singing comedy duo The Smothers Brother has died at 86, his family said Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. FRAZER HARRISON / Getty Images via AFP

WASHINGTON, United States—Tom Smothers of the groundbreaking singing comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, whose combination of folk music, jokes and biting political commentary earned American admirers and detractors alike over a six-decade career, has died at 86, his family said Wednesday, Dec. 27.

A statement posted by the National Comedy Center—which hailed Tom Smothers as a “true champion” of free speech—said he died on Tuesday following a recent battle with 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 the statement.


“I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years.”

Tom and Dick Smothers began performing on stage in the late 1950s.

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Success grew quickly, and they appeared on major prime-time comedy and variety shows, delivering a funny, often provocative shtick that resonated with viewers.

They went on to host their own one-hour variety show on CBS television, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which debuted in 1967 and helped pave the way for other comedy and sketch shows such as Saturday Night Live years later.

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But their forthright wit and scathing critiques of parts of American culture and the government during the politically explosive Sixties ran afoul of network executives, and their show was canceled in 1969.

“It was kind of original,” Tom Smothers once said of the format he perfected with his brother.

“When we started singing folk songs, I’d make up introductions to the songs and people would laugh. And pretty soon my brother would say something like ‘That’s wrong'” or ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,'” Tom said in a 2000 interview with the Television Academy Foundation.

It took about a year for the brothers to hone their formula of music, sibling rivalry and argument, he said, adding: “It became a working conversation of disagreement.”

The Smothers Brothers often touched on US politics, social upheaval and war, and their show—whose writers included the likes of Steve Martin and Rob Reiner—became legendary in a rapidly changing industry.

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“It was huge, and it was spectacularly subversive in a splendid way,” comedian Lewis Black told All Arts TV in 2019.

TAGS: Entertainment, Music, Obit

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