Tom Smothers, one half of Smothers Brothers comedy duo, dies at 86

Tom Smothers, one half of Smothers Brothers comedy duo, dies at 86

(NEXSTAR) – Comedian, musician and television personality Tom Smothers, who starred in “The Smothers Brothers Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” alongside his brother Dick Smothers, died on Tuesday at the age of 86.

Dick, 85, announced his brother’s passing in a news release issued by the National Comedy Center in New York, which houses some of the brothers’ memorabilia.

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

Tom Smothers passed at home in Sonoma County, California, with family at his side, Dick said. Smothers had previously been battling stage 2 lung cancer, he told CBS News in 2022.

Smothers is survived by his children Bo and Riley Rose Smothers. His son Tom had passed previously, according to the news release.

Tom Smothers
Tom Smothers, pictured here at CBS’s 75th anniversary celebration in November 2003, died Tuesday at his California home, his brother Dick confirmed. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano, File)

The Smothers Brothers began their career in the 1950s with the intentions of becoming a folk act, but soon added elements of comedy.

“We were going to be musicians,” Tom Smothers said in a 2000 interview with the Television Academy. “The singing was the most important thing. And my introductions were kind of incidental and interesting to keep the act [going].”

“We got laughs, but we thought our songs were more important than what I was saying,” he said.

When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS in the fall of 1967, it was an immediate hit, to the surprise of many who had assumed the network’s expectations were so low it positioned their show opposite the top-rated “Bonanza.”

Smothers Brothers
Tom and Dick Smothers are pictured at the Kennedy Center ceremony honoring Bob Newhart in 2002. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)

But the Smothers Brothers would prove a turning point in television history, with its sharp eye for pop culture trends and young rock stars such as the Who and Buffalo Springfield, and its daring sketches — ridiculing the Establishment, railing against the Vietnam War and portraying members of the era’s hippie counterculture as gentle, fun-loving spirits — found an immediate audience with young baby boomers. The show reached No. 16 in the ratings in its first season.

It also drew the ire of network censors, and after years of battling with the brothers over the show’s creative content, the network abruptly canceled the program in 1970, accusing the siblings of failing to submit an episode in time for the censors to review.

Nearly 40 years later, when Smothers was awarded an honorary Emmy for his work on the show, he jokingly thanked the writers he said had gotten him fired. He also showed that the years had not dulled his outspokenness.

A private memorial service for Tom Smothers’ family and friends is planned for 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.