Tom Smothers of Legendary Comedy Duo Smothers Brothers Passes Away Aged 86

Tom Smothers passes away
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Tom Smothers passes away
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Photo Credit: Erik Schultz / CC by 3.0

Tom Smothers, who for over 60 years performed with his brother as the singing comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, has passed away at age 86.

Comedian Tom Smothers, who performed with his brother Dick as the singing comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, has passed away, according to a statement shared by the family with the National Comedy Center. He was 86, and battling cancer. Dick Smothers, Tom’s younger brother and his professional partner, reports that his brother was at home surrounded by family at the time of his death.

“Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner,” said Dick Smothers. “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.”

The pair became known as comedy pioneers with their satirical CBS variety show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” The show ran from 1967 until 1969 when the network infamously pulled it off the air over the brothers’ political critiques, opposition to the Vietnam War, and their defense of civil rights.

“Fifty years later, I look back on us being fired, and I’m still pissed off,” Tom said in a 2019 interview.

Tom Smothers was born in 1937, a year before his brother. The two grew up in California and began performing folk music after attending San Jose State University. In a CBS News interview last year, Tom said he and his brother didn’t think of themselves as comedians when they started out performing — they thought of themselves only as folk singers.

But the popularity of their performances on TV led to the creation of their comedy show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which became an instant hit. With Tom as the bumbling guitarist and Dick as the straight man and upright bass player, their mixture of music, skits, and political jabs challenged network censors of the era. Despite often joking about the criticism they faced, the Smothers Brothers took freedom of speech very seriously.

“The right for us not to allow even to give our viewpoints to other people who are interested in hearing it is contrary, I think, to the principle of our country and to the principle that makes the world go ‘round,” Tom once said on their program.

Even though the brothers were able to successfully sue CBS for cancelling their show over a supposed breach of contract, the program never returned to air. But its legacy was already well-cemented; the show featured early writers who would go on to become household comedy names, including Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Rob Reiner, and David Steiner.

“They said the social subjects we touched on were not appropriate for the 9 o’clock family viewing hour,” Dick said. “They came up with any excuse to make it difficult.”

“And I came up with any excuse to push it,” added Tom.

Last year, the brothers announced their plans to return to the stage with a tour in 2023, but Tom’s cancer diagnosis made this impossible. A private memorial service for Tom Smothers will take place in 2024; Dick and his wife have requested that memorial donations honoring Tom be made to the National Comedy Center.