Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers Dead at 86
Tom Smothers of the famous Smothers Brothers comedy duo has died at the age of 86.
The comedian’s death was confirmed by the National Comedy Center who, on behalf of the family, revealed that Smothers died “following a recent battle with cancer.”
Born in New York, the Smothers family relocated to Southern California when Tom was a child. There he attended Redondo Beach High School and later San Jose State University.
Tom and his younger brother, Richard, initially wanted to become folk musicians, however, they found a winning formula when they began mixing comedy routines into their performances.
The Smothers Brothers began appearing on TV variety shows in the early ‘60s and released several popular comedy albums. They were given their own television series, The Smothers Brothers Show, in 1965, however, the sitcom format proved a bad fit for their style of comedy. Two years later, the duo landed a variety show of their own, where they proceeded to thrive.
The Success of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour featured sketches and routines that, for their time, pushed the boundaries of television. Future stars like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner were among the show’s writers. The series became a hit with young Americans, while the older generation – and CBS censors – bristled with some of its more controversial routines.
Harkening to their early folk days, the Smothers Brothers also made sure their variety show featured plenty of musical performances. The series earned a reputation for hosting many of rock’s biggest acts, including Cream, the Doors, George Harrison, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane and Simon & Garfunkel.
One of the show’s most notorious moments took place in 1967 when the Who performed. Keith Moon placed a small amount of explosives in his bass drum to add a wild effect to their rendition of “My Generation.” However, unbeknownst to the drummer or any of his bandmates, a stagehand had accidentally doubled the amount of pyrotechnics that were intended to be used. When the band smashed their instruments at the end of the song, the explosion was much larger than expected. Moon was hit by shrapnel from his cymbal, while Pete Townshend’s hair briefly caught on fire.
Watch the Who on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
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Despite the show’s popularity, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was canceled after two years due to ongoing disputes with CBS.
The show was briefly brought back in 1970 and another revival followed in 1988, however, neither managed to catch an audience's attention like the original.
Tom Smothers Played on John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance
Tom befriended many musicians over the years, including John Lennon. The two occasionally collaborated on projects, most notably Lennon’s 1969 classic “Give Peace a Chance,” which featured Smothers on acoustic guitar.
Tom continued making television appearances throughout his life, including guest spots on Dream On, Suddenly Susan, and The Simpsons.
Most recently, Tom and Richard announced they’d be hitting the road once more for a Smothers Brothers comedy tour in 2023.
“This is kind of a victory lap or something,” Tom said. “Just to go by these people one more time and to take a look at these brothers that they liked a lot to see how they, ‘Oh, they don’t look that bad!’”
Sadly, Tom's cancer forced the duo to cancel their reunion dates.