Iconic comedian Carl Reiner dead at 98

Joe Erwin and Peter Sblendorio New York Daily News (TNS)
Actor Carl Reiner speaks onstage during "An Afternoon with Carl Reiner - Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" during day three of the TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 on April 30, 2016 in Los Angeles. Reiner died Monday, June 29, 2020 at 98.

Carl Reiner's first book was called "Enter Laughing," and it truly was the story of his life.

The Bronx native, a comedy titan as a writer, producer, actor and director for decades, best known for creating "The Dick Van Dyke Show," died Monday at 98, Variety reported.

He was with his family when he died at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Reiner died of natural causes, his assistant, Judy Nagy, told Variety.

Reiner could truly do it all. He directed comedy smashes such as "Oh God" with George Burns and "The Jerk" with Steve Martin, and sold millions of records as the straight man to pal Mel Brooks' 2000 Year Old Man.

But television was perhaps his best medium. He became a hot commodity as Sid Caesar's foil in the 1950s, but it was the role he didn't play that may have brought his greatest contribution to comedy culture.

After his time with Caesar, Reiner was offered starring roles in sitcoms, but he thought the scripts were weak. Reiner's wife, Estelle, said that he could write a better show, so that's what he did, creating a autobiographical pilot, in which he starred. It went nowhere.

Actor-turned TV producer Sheldon Leonard, however, saw the failed pilot, and offered to give it another shot. Reiner said he didn't want to be disappointed again, but Leonard had a solution.

"He says, 'You won't fail. I'll get a better actor to play you,'" Reiner recalled to Conan O'Brien.

The "better actor" was Dick Van Dyke, and with Reiner writing and producing, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" became a comedy classic. Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, a comedy writer living in New Rochelle, N.Y., at the time. The show deftly mixed Rob's home life with Mary Tyler Moore as his wife and Larry Mathews as his son, and his office life opposite fellow writers Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam.

The three wrote for the egotistical star Alan Brady. At first Reiner played Brady only from the back, but then realized Brady needed to be seen and heard, so he fully took on the character for occasional guest appearances.

"Carl was the brains behind everything," Rose Marie said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. "His mind is brilliant for comedy."

The show ran for five seasons, winning 15 Emmys, before Reiner and company decided to go out on top.

From there, Reiner went on to films. "Enter Laughing" in 1967 was his first, but his true breakthrough came in the heavenly hit "Oh God" in 1977. Two years later, Reiner and Martin began a highly successful collaboration. The comedian appeared in Reiner's next four films: "The Jerk (1977), "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), "The Main With Two Brains" (1983) and "All of Me" (1984).

Reiner often acted in small parts in his films, but was no slouch as an actor. He starred in "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming" in 1966, and was a familiar face on the big and small screens for decades. Nearing 80, he began an acting renaissance with a role in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven," opposite Hollywood heavyweights including George Clooney and Brad Pitt. He appeared in two "Ocean's" sequels and piled up a string of guest starring credits in TV shows.

Reiner married Estelle when he was 21 and she was 29, and they were wed for 64 years until her death in 2008. They had three children, including actor/director Rob Reiner. For all the great lines Carl and Rob delivered, Estelle may have topped them both. In Rob's 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally," Estelle played the women in the restaurant who, after witnessing Meg Ryan's fake orgasm, says to the waitress, "I'll have what she's having."

Carl Reiner was active on Twitter as he neared a century of life, often tweeting his displeasure with President Trump.

He described himself as a "Jewish atheist," and the people who knew and worked with him thought of him as a true mensch.

In a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television, Van Dyke called Reiner a "wonderful man. To this day he's probably my favorite human being that I've ever known."