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Tom Smothers, Musician and Activist, Dead at 86

Tom Smothers, Musician and Activist, Dead at 86

Tom Smothers, who brought laughter to many thanks to teaming with his brother Dick as The Smothers Brothers, has died of cancer. He was 86. Dick Smothers, Tom’s brother, made the announcement. He said that Tom Smothers died at home with his family at his side.

“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. “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.”

Tom Smothers played off his brother Dick so well in their comedy act. Both really could play their musical instruments, with Tom interrupting more times than not. It might be a lyric that goes astray (thanks to Tom) or a wrong note. Something would happen, causing Dick to stop playing and start nagging Tom. This usually broke down into some type of argument.

It was in this moment that Tom Smothers would sometimes say, “Mom always liked you best.”

From 1966 to 1968, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was both popular and polarizing for its time. Tom Smothers was against the Vietnam War and the same went for Dick. They would take potshots at elected officials or others in high places. When not on the show, Tom did spend time with others who were anti-war activists. CBS, watching the brothers use their show in a counterculture way, canceled the very popular variety show in 1969. Ironically, the network invited them back for a special a number of years later.

But there’s a lot more to Tom Smothers than simply the variety show.

Tom Smothers Started Performing Early With His Brother

Thomas Bolyn Smothers III was born on Feb. 2, 1937, on Governors Island in New York Harbor. He started performing with his younger brother Dick at an early age. That led to adding comedy to their folk performances. They were featured on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, The Garry Moore Show, and The New Steve Allen Show.

Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center, said, “Tom Smothers was not only an extraordinary comedic talent, who, together with his brother Dick, became the most enduring comedy duo in history, entertaining the world for over six decades – but was a true champion for freedom of speech, harnessing the power of comedy to push boundaries and our political consciousness.

“Tom was a true pioneer who changed the face of television and transformed our culture with ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,’ which satirized politics, combated racism, protested the Vietnam War, and led the way for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘The Daily Show,’ today’s network late night shows, and so much more,” Gunderson said. “We were proud to bring Tom and Dick out of retirement and reunite them on stage in 2019 to celebrate their legendary careers, and we are honored to preserve Tom’s remarkable work and legacy here at the National Comedy Center for generations to come.”

Variety reports that Tom Smothers and Dick Smothers were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2010. Tom Smothers was belatedly given an Emmy in 2008 for his writing contributions to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He chose to remove his name from the ballot for the 1969 Emmys out of fear of stirring controversy. Steve Martin presented the commemorative award in 2008.

Among Smothers’ survivors are Marcy Carriker Smothers, his children Bo and Riley Rose Smothers, grandson Phoenix, sister-in-law Marie Smothers, and several nephews and a niece.