Tony award-winning US playwright Neil Simon dies at 91 -NYT

Aug 26 (Reuters) - U.S. playwright Neil Simon, who became one of Broadway's most prolific and popular playwrights as he combined humor, drama and introspection in works such as "The Odd Couple," "The Goodbye Girl" and "Lost in Yonkers," died on Sunday at the age of 91, the New York Times reported, citing his publicist.

Simon drew on his tumultuous New York Jewish upbringing in many of his works.

A new Simon play almost every theatrical season was a Broadway staple from 1960 through the mid-1990s, placing him in the ranks of America's top playwrights. He wrote more than 40 plays that were funny, moving and immensely popular - sometimes shifting from slapstick to melodrama with the turn of a phrase.

At one point he had a record four plays running simultaneously on Broadway.

Simon was called "not just a show business success but an institution" by one New York critic. While his voice and comedy were decidedly East Coast and often reflected an ethnic Jewish experience, Simon's works played to packed houses around the world.

20 PHOTOS
Neil Simon through the years
See Gallery
Neil Simon through the years
The American playwright Neil Simon (1921-) in London, ca. 1969. His work includes The Odd Couple. (Photo by � Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Inspiration comes to Neil Simon. 5/27/1967
Playwright Neil Simon photographed at home in 1971. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images
THE BELL SYSTEM FAMILY THEATRE -- 'The Trouble with People' -- Pictured: Writer/producer Neil Simon -- (Photo by: Art Selby & Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - 1979: Actress Marsha Mason and playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon attend a 1979 Los Angeles, California party. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 5: The Ford Motor Company's 75th anniversary special, A Salute to the American Imagination, originally broadcast October 5, 1978 on CBS television. Pictured is playwright, Neil Simon. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Playwright Neil Simon, 1982. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.
NEW YORK CITY - MARCH 23: Actor Matthew Broderick and playwright Neil Simon attend the 'Biloxi Blues' Premiere Party on March 23, 1988 at Automat in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 2: Playwright Neil Simon, actor Kevin Spacey and actress Mercedes Ruehl attend the 45th Annual Tony Awards on June 2, 1991 at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City. (photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - OCTOBER 25: Actor Alec Baldwin and playwright Neil Simon attend the Casting Society of America's Fifth Annual Artios Awards on October 25, 1989 at the Century Cafe in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
384132 01: Playwright Neil Simon arrives at the Palm Springs International Film Festival gala January 13, 2001 in Palm Springs, CA. (Photo by Jason Kirk/Newsmakers)
NEW YORK - APRIL 10: Playwright Neil Simon speaks during the American Theatre Wing Annual Spring Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on April 10, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JULY 27: Playwright Neil Simon from 'The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize For American Humor' speaks onstage during the 2006 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour for PBS held at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel on July 27, 2006 in Pasadena, California. Playwright Neil Simon is the recipient of the 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humon. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Playwright Neil Simon arrives at the opening night of 'A Moon For The Misbegotten' at the Brooks Atkinson theatre on April 9, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 24: Playwright Neil Simon attends 'The Neil Simon Plays: Brighton Beach Memoirs & Broadway Bound' photo call at Sardi's on August 24, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 14: Elaine Joyce and playwright Neil Simon attens 'Harvey' Broadway Opening Night at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 on June 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31: Playwright Neil Simon (R) and wife, Elaine Joyce attend the opening night of 'Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo' at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 31, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Playwright Neil Simon arrives at the Michael Clayton Premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater September 24, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 26: Playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon attends the opening night of 'Our Town' at the Barrow Street Theatre on February 26, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 13: Playwright Neil Simon attends 'Picnic' Broadway Opening Night at American Airlines Theatre on January 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/WireImage)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

He won Tony Awards for "The Odd Couple," "Biloxi Blues" and "Lost in Yonkers" and a fourth for his overall contribution to American theater. He was nominated for 13 other Tonys.

"Lost in Yonkers" (1990), a painfully funny story about the relationship between an abusive mother and her grown children, also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1991.

Simon's childhood was marred by the breakup of his parents. At first he was reluctant to draw on that pain, fearing it would make his plays too dark.

Later in his career he would use his own painful experiences, such as in the semi-biographical "Brighton Beach Memoirs," to give his work more depth.

But being entertaining was his primary goal.

"When I was a kid, I climbed up on a stone ledge to watch an outdoor movie of Charlie Chaplin," Simon once told Life magazine. "I laughed so hard I fell off, cut my head open and was taken to the doctor, bleeding and laughing.

.".. My idea of the ultimate achievement in a comedy is to make a whole audience fall onto the floor, writhing and laughing so hard that some of them pass out."

Simon's plays made him a wealthy man and many were turned into films, which made him even wealthier and earned him four Academy Award nominations. Among his works appearing on movie screens were "Barefoot in the Park," "Plaza Suite," "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound." "The Odd Couple" was even made into a successful television sitcom.

Early Simon works were sometimes deemed too sentimental or commercial by critics but as his career entered its third decade, the plays grew more serious, more mature. Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote of "Biloxi Blues" (1985) that Simon "at last begins to examine himself honestly, without compromises, and as a result is his most persuasively serious effort."

Marvin Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in the New York City borough of the Bronx, son of Irving, a garment salesman, and Mamie Simon.

After attending New York University and the University of Denver and serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Simon and his mentor, older brother Danny Simon, worked together in the 1940s writing comedy sketches for radio performer Goodman Ace.

Simon and Danny, whose living arrangements once inspired Neil's "The Odd Couple," then moved to television, working with such popular entertainers as Sid Caesar, Phil Silver and Jackie Gleason, and with other writers including Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.

But Simon did not like television work and in 1960 came up with "Come Blow Your Horn," which became a modest Broadway hit. It was followed by "Barefoot in the Park" in 1963, which ran for more than 1,500 performances. Simon would go on to dominate the 1960s with "The Odd Couple," "Sweety Charity," "Plaza Suite" and "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers."

In the '70s he turned out "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," "The Sunshine Boys" and "California Suite" while his '80s works included "Brighton Beach Memoirs," Biloxi Blues," "Broadway Bound" and "Rumors." Simon continued into the next decade with "Lost in Yonkers," "Jake's Women," "The Goodbye Girl" and "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."

His semi-autobiographical trilogy - "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound - was a fixture on Broadway in the 1980s.

69 PHOTOS
Celebrities who died in 2018
See Gallery
Celebrities who died in 2018

Aretha Franklin died at the age of 76 on August 16 following a long battle with cancer. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Renowned celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died of an apparent suicide on June 8. Read more here.

(Photo: Reuters)

"Superman" actress Margot Kidder died at the age of 69 in May. Read more here.

(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)

Burt Reynolds died at the age of 82 on September 6 after going into cardiac arrest. Read more here.

(Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

Comic book legend Stan Lee died at the age of 95 in early November. Read more here.

(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

Designer Kate Spade died on June 5, 2018 by suicide. Read more here.

(Photo: Getty)

DJ Avicii died at 28 on April 20. Read more here.

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for MasterCard)

Rapper Mac Miller died at the age of 26 on September 7 following an accidental drug overdose. Read more here.

(Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)

Joe Jackson died at the age of 89 at the end of June. Read more here.

(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)

Kim Porter, Diddy's ex and the mother of three of his children, died suddenly in November at the age of 47. Read more here.

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

"Austin Powers" actor Verne Troyer died at 49 on April 21. Read more here.

(Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)

"Damn Yankees" star and gay icon Tab Hunter died at the age of 86 from cardiac arrest on July 7. Read more here.

(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O'Riordan died at 46 on January 15. Read more here

(Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

"The Facts of Life" star Charlotte Rae died at the age of 92 in early August. Read more here.

(Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

"Frasier" star John Mahoney died at 77 on February 4. Read more here.

(Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Former "Glee" actor Mark Salling died at 35 on January 30. Read more here.

(Photo by ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Rapper XXXTentacion was shot dead at the age of 20 on June 19. Read more here.

(Photo by Miami Dade County Corrections via Getty Images)

Former child star Jon Paul Steuer (right) died on January 1 at the age of 33. Read more here.

(Photo by Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

"Ladies of London" star and model Annabelle Neilson was found dead at the age of 49 in mid-July. Read more here.

(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Claridge's)

"Hee Haw" host and country music legend Roy Clark died in November at the age of 85. Read more here.

(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Comedian Marty Allen died at 95 on February 12. Read more here.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Actor Jerry Van Dyke died on January 5 at age 86. Read more here.

(Photo by Mitch Haddad/ABC via Getty Images)

Richard "Old Man" Harrison from "Pawn Stars died on June 25 at the age of 77. Read more here.

(Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)

Moody Blues co-founder Ray Thomas died on January 7 at 76. Read more here.

(Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Motorhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke died at 67 on January 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

Original Mouseketeer Doreen Tracey died at 74 on January 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Bobby Zarin (left), husband of former "Real Housewives of New York" star Jill Zarin, died at 71 on January 13. Read more here.

(Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Nancy Sinatra died at the age of 101 in mid-July. Read more here.

(Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"General Hospital" star Susan Brown died on August 31 at the age of 86 after a battle with Alzheimer's. Read more here.

(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Country singer Lari White died at 52 on January 23. Read more here.

(Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)

"Storm Chasers" star Joel Taylor died at the age of 38. Read more here.

https://t.co/nFANu8zcs4

Former NBA star Rasual Butler and former "American Idol" contestant Leah LaBelle died in a car crash on January 30. Read more here.

(Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

The Temptations vocalist, Dennis Edwards (center), died at 74 on February 2. Read more here.

(Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)

"Home Improvement" actor Mickey Jones died at 76 on February 7. Read more here.

(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Actor Reg E. Cathey died at 59 in February. Read more here.

(Photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Former E! reality star Lyric McHenry was found at the age of 26 on August 14. Read more here.

Country singer Daryle Singletary died at 46 in early February. Read more here.

(Photo by Mindy Small/FilmMagic)

TV star Nanette Fabray died at 97 on February 22. Read more here.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor died in late February at 54. Read more here.

(Photo by Amlan Dutta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

"MASH" star David Ogden Stiers died on March 3 at 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic)

Rapper Craig Mack died at 46 on March 12. Read more here.

(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

Singer and "The Voice" contestant Beverly McClellan died at the age of 49 in October following a long battle with cancer. Read more here.

(Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Former child star Donna Butterworth died at 62 in March. Read more here.

(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Frank Avruch (aka Bozo The Clown) died at 89 in March. Read more here.

(Photo by John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"Chicago Fire" actress Dushon Brown died at 49 on March 23. Read more here.

(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)

K-Pop singer Seo Min-woo died on March 25 at 33. Read more here.

Actress Susan Anspach died in April at 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Kids' TV host Chuck McCann died at 83 on April 8. Read more here.

(Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

"One Flew Over The Kuckoo's Nest" director Milos Forman died at 86 on April 13. Read more here.

(Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)

"Full Metal Jacket" actor R. Lee Ermey died at 74 on April 15. Read more here.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

"Night Court" actor Harry Anderson died at 65 on April 16. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Country musician and song-writer Randy Scruggs died at 64 on April 17. Read more here.

(Photo by Ed Rode/FilmMagic)

"Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" actress Pamela Gidley died at 52 in April. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Dennis Shields, "Real Housewives of New York" star Bethenny Frankel's on-and-off boyfriend, died of an overdose on August 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Alessio Botticelli/GC Images)

Longtime "Days of Our Lives" star Peggy McCay died at the age of 90 of natural causes in October. Read more here.

(Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

"The Goldbergs" actor Jackson Odell died on June 8 at the age of 20. Read more here.

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LFO group member Devin Lima died in November at the age of 41 following a battle with cancer. Read more here.

(Photo by Derek Bauer/FilmMagic)

"Sons of Anarchy" actor Alan O'Neill died at the age of 47 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by Amy Graves/Wireimage)

"Days of Our Lives" actor Frank Parker died at the end of September the age of 79 from complications of Parkinson's disease and dementia. Read more here.

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Days Of Our lives)

Former "America's Got Talent" winner Neal Boyd died at the age of 42 in June. Read more here.

(Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Jerry Marren, the last living actor who played a munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz," died in June at the age of 98. Read more here.

(Photo by John M. Heller/FilmMagic)

"Spongebob Squarepants" creator Stephen Hillenburg died at the age of 57 from ALS. Read more here.

(Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)

Actor Robert Mandan died at the age of 86 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by Malcolm Ali/WireImage)

Hugh Dane, who played Hank the security guard on "The Office," died in June at the age of 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Mitch Haddad/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Jerry Maren, the last-living "Wizard of Oz" munchkin, died at the age of 98 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by John M. Heller/FilmMagic)

Founding member of The Bay City Rollers, Alan Longmuir, died at the age of 70 at the beginning of July after a brief illness. Read more here.

(Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)

Former "ER" actress Vanessa Marquez was shot by police at the end of August. She was 49. Read more here.

(Credit: Alice S. Hall/NBCU Photo Bank)

Jefferson Airplane founding member Marty Balin died at the end of September at the age of 76. Read more here.

(Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Dennis Hof, owner of Moonlite Bunny Ranch, died at the age of 72 in October. Read more here.

(Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

CREATIVE 'PINBALL MACHINE'

Simon once compared his own creative process to a pinball machine, such as when he was writing "Lost in Yonkers." The creative concept, he said, began "to move circuitously around in my brain, bouncing off one neuron to another, like a pinball that hits every number of the board repeatedly, rolls down, hits the flippers and goes bouncing back up for another go at every bell-ringing number again."

Simon's plays were usually set in New York with characters whose problems were similar to those experienced by Simon.

"Chapter Two," for example, dealt with a writer whose first wife had died, trying to open himself to love a new woman. Simon's wife of 20 years, Joan Baim, died of cancer in 1973, after which he married actress Marsha Mason, who starred in the 1979 film version of "Chapter Two." Mason also won an Oscar for 1977's "The Goodbye Girl," another Simon play he adapted for the screen.

Simon received Kennedy Center honors in 1995 from President Bill Clinton for his contribution to the arts and to popular culture in the 20th century.

"He challenges us and himself never to take ourselves too seriously," Clinton said in presenting the award. "Thank you for the wit and the wisdom."

Simon was married five times, twice to actress Diane Lander. He is survived by wife Elaine Joyce and his three daughters from different marriages, the Times reported. (Reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)

Read Full Story