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Tom Smothers, half the famed comedy and music duo Smothers Brothers, dies at 86




Tom Smothers, half of the famed Smothers Brothers comedy and music duo that fought racism, the Vietnam War and television censors, died on Tuesday, his family said.

The 86-year-old’s passing was announced Wednesday by the family and National Comedy Center.

“Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner,” brother Dick Smothers, 84, 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.” 

Tom and Dick Smothers were never shy about using their platform to needle authority, in any way possible in staid, confrontation-adverse 1960s media.

CBS famously pulled the plug on the “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in April 1969 due to their content consistently poking fun of the powerful and boosting Vietnam War critics and civil rights proponents.

The Smothers Brothers Show
Dick, left and Tom Smothers in 1965.CBS via Getty Images

At a 2019 event to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the firing, the pair still had a humorous take on their momentous roles in pop culture history.

“It’s really an honor to be honored in this way,” Tom Smothers told The Associated Press in 2019. “At least we’re both alive and not having someone speak for us. We can mumble our own way through.”

Looking back at the 1969 CBS termination, brother Dick said they believed their comedy was rather “benign” despite the backlash.

“Don’t tell a comedian not to say a certain word. For sure they’ll do it,” he said. “The funny thing is, I look back at those things. They’re so benign, but at the time they were volatile.”

But as recently as 2004, Tom Smothers said he wasn’t sure American audiences could handle frank political discourse on prime time TV.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Tom, left, and Dick Smothers in 1966. CBS via Getty Images

Even as “dirty words are flowing, the sex is flowing and the violence,” there’s a dearth of social commentary, he said at the time.

Thomas Bolyn Smothers III was born on Feb. 2 1937, on Governors Island in New York. He was the son of homemaker Ruth Remick and Army Maj. Thomas Smothers, who died in World War II as a POW of the Japanese.

After moving to suburban Los Angeles, both brothers graduated from San José State before embarking on their comedy and music career. They honed their craft at famed clubs such as San Francisco’s Purple Onion and New York’s Blue Angel.

Despite the brothers’ early critical success, mainstream platforms still weren’t keen on their folk music. Smothers recalled how it took a stroke of luck to get on “The Tonight Show,” then led by host Jack Paar.

“Paar kept telling our agent he didn’t like folk singers — except for Burl Ives,” Smothers said in 1964. “But one night he had a cancellation, and we went on. Everything worked right that night.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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