Tom Smothers, of Music-Comedy Duo Smothers Brothers, Dies at 86

The comedian and musician was known for his outspoken politics

BY Kaelen BellPublished Dec 27, 2023

Tom Smothers — one half of musical-comedy duo the Smothers Brothers — died on Tuesday (December 26) at his home, as confirmed by the National Comedy Center. The comedian and musician was 86 and had been living with cancer. 

Thomas Bolyn "Tom" Smothers III was born in New York in 1937, after which he moved with his family — including younger brother Dick — to California where he graduated from Redondo Union High School, later attending San José State College. 

While at college, Tom and Dick formed a folk music group called Casual Quintet, performing at San Francisco's Purple Onion where they nabbed a 36-week residency

By 1961, the brothers were a duo going by the Smothers Brothers, and they began appearing on TV programs like Jack Paar's Tonight, The Judy Garland Show, Burke's Law, and The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1965, the Smothers Brothers debuted their own sitcom, The Smothers Brothers Show, which only ran a year before being replaced by The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. The variety program featured musical guests like George Harrison, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Janis Ian, Ray Charles, Steve Martin, Bob Einstein and Rob Reiner.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was canceled in 1969, and Tom Smothers continued performing and remained outspoken politically, blaming the show's cancellation on pressure from Richard Nixon. He later appeared in Brian De Palma's Get to Know Your Rabbit, the 1980 comedy Serial, and more. In 2011, he was awarded the Jack Green Civil Liberties Award by the American Civil Liberties Union's Sonoma County chapter — the award recognized his political activism and fight against censorship.

"Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner," Dick Smothers said in a statement. "I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. Our relationship was like a good marriage—the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed."

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