US playwright, ‘king of comedy’ Neil Simon dead at 91

Neil Simon - the United States playwright behind The Odd Couple - has died in hospital suffering with kidney failure at the age of 91.

Perhaps Simon's most infamous production was the critically panned Rose's Dilemma, which opened at off-Broadway's non-profit Manhattan Theatre Club in December 2003.

Screenwriter Neil Simon at the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, California April 6, 1998.

Not only did Simon make a splash on the stage and screen, he also helped establish modern sitcom writing, working on such 1950s hits as Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and The Phil Silvers Show.

Neil Simon attends the "Les Miserables" New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater in New York City on December 10, 2012.

Simon served in the military and then worked with his older brother Danny on producing jokes for television and radio scripts.

With the exception of his one great screenplay, for Elaine May's 1972 The Heartbreak Kid, an adaptation of a Bruce Jay Friedman story, it was not until his final successes - the autobiographical trilogy that began with the 1983 Brighton Beach Memoirs - that Simon fully acknowledged that implicit Jewishness of many of his characters. My job allowed me to stand in the back of the house and watch it repeatedly. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall appeared in the TV series. He is survived by three children, and a memorial service is already scheduled for this Thursday in New York City.

At one point, in the late 1960s, he had four shows on Broadway at once. His classic comedies include "The Odd Couple" and "The Sunshine Boys". He was also a Pulitzer Prize victor, among many other honors during a lengthy career.

That familiarity drew American audiences to Simon's work, critics noted.

They offered the same comfort for Simon himself, who told The New York Times in 1988 that writing the play "Rumors" helped him cope with the end of his third marriage, to actor Diane Lander. "I write about the small wars that eventually become the big wars".

Overall, Simon gathered 17 Tony Awards with three wins.

"I am most alive and most fulfilled sitting alone in a room, hoping that those words forming on the paper in the Smith-Corona will be the first flawless play ever written in a single draft", Simon wrote in the introduction to one of the many anthologies of his plays.

Simon was called "not just a show business success but an institution" by one NY critic.

"The good mechanic knows how to take a auto apart; I love to take the human mind apart and see how it works".

  • Jacqueline Ellis