Television writer, producer and director Norman Lear dies aged 101

American television writer, producer and director Norman Lear died on 5th December, he was 101 years old.

The television veteran has been remembered for a string of iconic shows, giving breaks to some of TV’s biggest stars, and for being a huge LGBTIQA+ ally.

Lear was behind some of the biggest US sitcoms of the 1970’s including All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons and Good Times. He is credited with pioneering productions that were comedies but also tackled serious social issues.

Lear first found success with programs which were based on popular British programs. All in the Family was based on the UK’s Till Death Do US Part, while Steptoe and Son was another remake.

In 1971 he included a gay character in an episode of All in the Family, it’s widely considered to be the first depiction of an out gay man on American television. The episode Judging Books by Covers saw the bigoted lead character Archie Bunker stunned to discover his old friend and former football buddy is gay.

On several of his shows Lear included characters who were gay couples, drag queens or transgender, but presented them as real people, not making them the butt of the jokes. While many of the depictions might not meet the standards of television today, they were groundbreaking for their time.

In 1972 Maude premiered, the show was a spin-off from All in the Family and made lead actor Bea Arthur a household name. The show often tackled serious topics including abortion, alcoholism, domestic abuse and overuse of prescription medication.

The comedy series Good Times saw some of the secondary characters from Maude get their own show. Esther Rolle and John Amos starred as a black couple living in poor neighbourhood in Chicago. Later series of the show saw Janet Jackson join the cast.

In 1981 Lear founded People for the American Way, a non-profit organisation to advocate for progressive issues. The creation of the organisation was a response to right-wing Christian groups advocating for conservative values.

In 2014 Lear was the recipient of the GLAAD Pioneer Award. He was later given the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton, and in 2017 became the oldest person to be a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.  

While he was over 100 years old Lear never stopped working on projects. He was a producer on a 2021 documentary about actor Rita Moreno, was working on a revival of 80’s sitcom Who’s the Boss, and also had a remake of his cult sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in development.  

OIP Staff

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