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Neil Simon, giant of American stage, dies aged 91

Neil Simon, giant of American stage, dies aged 91

The Pulitzer and Tony-winning playwright Neil Simon has died, it was announced on Sunday. He was 91.

Simon was prolific – his hit plays and musicals included The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, The Sunshine Boys, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues, which made Matthew Broderick a Broadway and Hollywood star. He was also a prolific author of screenplays, including successful adaptations of The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. A standard Broadway joke had it that only William Shakespeare wrote more hit plays.

Simon won the Pulitzer in 1991, for Lost in Yonkers, three Tony awards and one for special achievement, and the Mark Twain prize for humour. He was a Kennedy Center honoree and had a Broadway Theater, the Alvin, named for him in 1983.

In 1997, he told the Washington Post: “I know that I have reached the pinnacle of rewards. There’s no more money anyone can pay me that I need. There are no awards they can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it.”

Simon specialised in comedy. Born in the Bronx in New York in 1927, he learned his trade in the city, writing jokes for comics including Sid Caesar, whose staff also included the young Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

It was rich soil in which to grow: in his Paris Review interview, published in 1994, he remembered “the screaming and fighting – a cocktail party without the cocktails, everyone yelling lines in and out, people getting very angry at others who were slacking off”.

Among the first tributes on social media on Sunday, the Seinfeld and Borat writer Larry Charles bracketed Simon with Woody Allen and Brooks as “three very similar and yet very different pillars of modern American comedy in the seventies (think Annie Hall, Blazing Saddles and the Odd Couple) … all … still deeply influential today”.

The Star Wars actor Mark Hamill called Simon a “GIANT of the American Theatre”; Vincent D’Onofrio said he was a “genius”; Elaine Paige said: “He truly was the king of Broadway comedy.”

Bill Evans, a longtime friend of Simon and director of media relations at the Shubert Organization, a Broadway powerhouse, told the Associated Press Simon died early on Sunday, of complications from pneumonia in a Manhattan hospital.


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Neil Simon, giant of American stage, dies aged 91

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