Sonoma Valley’s most famous citizen: Tommy Smothers’ Sonoma County roots ran deep and wide

Sonoma Valley’s most famous citizen: Tommy Smothers’ Sonoma County roots ran deep and wide

Tommy Smothers, who died Tuesday at age 86, could have lived anywhere. He chose, about 50 years ago, Sonoma Valley.

“This was home to him … more than any other place in his whole life,” friend Peter Calabrese, a prominent TV director and producer, said Wednesday.

Smothers discovered and took root in Sonoma Wine Country in the 1970s with the grandfather he adored, Ed Remick.

The comedian, musician, political philosopher and yo-yo master built a dream home and vineyard on a sweeping, hilltop ranch between Kenwood and Glen Ellen. He and his former wife, Marcy Carriker Smothers, raised two children, Bo and Riley Rose, there.

Tommy Smothers took his licks in Kenwood’s infamous Independence Day Pillow Fights. He and the brother that Mom loved more, Dick, sailed model boats in Sonoma Creek during benefit races by the fun-loving salts of the Jack London Yacht Club.

Locals never knew when Smothers would appear at a restaurant or entertainment venue. Fans of ranting comic Lewis Black went wild in 2015 when he played the Luther Burbank Center and Smothers sauntered onto the stage.

Smothers told Black: “I wish I was smarter ‘cause I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be like George (Carlin). I wanted to be like Lenny Bruce. I wanted to be a truth teller, but I didn’t have the chops.”

Black assured him, “But you were.”

In 2008, Smothers lent star power to the public celebration of the life of Benny Friedman, the very funny co-founder of Friedman’s Home Improvement.

Smothers recalled from Santa Rosa’s Friedman Event Center stage that Friedman once told him that when his son, Bill, turned 10, the lad’s mother, Rosemary, bought him a bird feeder. Benny asked Rosemary, “What am I going to get him?” She suggested buying Billy something that goes with a bird feeder. So, Smothers deadpanned, Benny Friedman gave his kid a BB gun.

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Among Smothers’ longtime friends in Sonoma County was Pat Paulsen, who chose “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” as the launchpad for his perennial, tongue-in-cheek run for the White House. Paulsen became a winemaker and the honorary mayor of Asti, between Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

Smothers was close, too, to Sonoma Valley’s outrageous and legendary Juanita Musson, equally beloved and feared as the operator of madcap eateries roamed by Erica the pig and a monkey named Beauregard.

When Musson died in 2011, Smothers told The Press Democrat, “She was the most intimidating personality” but she certainly lived in the moment.

When Smothers and his maternal grandfather, Remick, first set eyes on the rural property up above Warm Springs Road that would become home, there was little there.

“It was a gravel road,” friend Calabrese said. “All that was on the property was a swimming pool and a cabana. Tommy built that property rock by rock.”

Smothers would welcome to his Kenwood ranch home the likes of Paulsen and Robin Williams, John Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Bill Murray and Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello.

The Valley of the Moon was becoming known for fine wine grapes when Smothers planted the first of 50 acres of cabernet sauvignon vines in 1977. Then was born, the Smothers Brothers Vineyards.

Smothers once explained that he soon changed the name to Remick Ridge “because when people heard Smothers Brothers wine, they thought something like Milton Berle Fine Wine or Larry, Curly and Mo Vineyards.”

In 1985, Kenwood’s most famous citizen opened a tasting room on Highway 12. He said, “Making wine is so close to show business. Wine, like comedy, is subjective. Either people like your wine — or your songs, or your comedy — or they don’t. Each is a creative process and you’re only as good as your last effort.”

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Smothers and Marcy Carriker, a casting director and producer, married in 1990. Marcy Carriker Smothers became well known in the region and beyond as a radio host and author. The couple separated a few years ago.

Tommy Smothers just recently sold his ranch, with its cab vineyards and nearly 6,000-square-foot home. He pulled up stakes from Kenwood-Glen Ellen, but he didn’t go far.

He took in his last breath at his new home in Oakmont.

Chris Smith is a retired Press Democrat reporter and columnist. You can reach him at csmith54@sonic.net.