Neil Simon dead at 91; legendary writer and producer had award-winning Broadway classics, movies and TV shows

August 26, 2018

by John Larson

Tony-winning Broadway legend Neil Simon, 91, died of complications from pneumonia at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan on August 26, 2018, according to the Associated Press.

Simon’s numerous hit plays included “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park,”  “The Sunshine Boys,” “Lost in Yonkers,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” His musicals included “Sweet Charity,” “Little Me” and “They’re Playing Our Song.” His “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” were a trilogy of connected plays. Several of Broadway productions were adapted into movies and TV shows.

Simon won many awards in his lifetime, including three Tonys, a Pulitzer Prize (for “Lost in Yonkers”), a Golden Globe (for “The Goodbye Girl”) and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He was a Kennedy Center honoree in 1995.

Tony-winning actors Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein issued statements after Simon’s death.

Broderick made his Broadway debut in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” did his movie debut in 1983’s “Max Dugan Returns” (which was written by Simon), and starred in the 1988 film adaptation of “Biloxi Blues.” He commented, “It was my great good fortune that my very first Broadway play was written by Neil Simon. He also wrote my first film. I owe him a career. The theater has lost a brilliantly funny, unthinkably wonderful writer and even after all this time I feel I have lost a mentor, a father figure, a deep influence in my life and work.”

Lane starred in “Broadway Bound,” “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and the 2005 revival of “The Odd Couple.” He commented, “Neil Simon will always be one of my theatrical heroes and I am so proud to have played a small part in his unparalleled career and remarkable legacy. My heartfelt condolences to his wife Elaine and the entire Simon family.”

Fierstein, who is best known for his Tony-winning play “Torch Song Trilogy,” had this to say about Simon: “He could write a joke that would make you laugh, define the character, the situation, and even the world’s problems. First time I met him he looked at me and said, ‘Where the hell did they find you?’ What a gent.”

Marsha Mason, who was married to Simon from 1973 to 1983 and starred in several movies written by him, issued this statement: “I am deeply sad and hurting with the news of Neil’s passing. He was a great talent and man, husband and father. With his passing his plays and work live on and will be enjoyed by many generations to come. I will miss him deeply and always.”

Simon was married five times to four women. His first marriage to dancer Joan Baim was from 1953 to 1973, when she died of cancer. Mason was his second wife. Simon then married and divorced actress Diane Lander twice, with their first marriage lasting from 1987–1988, and their second marriage lasting from 1990 to 1998. Simon’s widow is actress Elaine Joyce, whom he married in 1999. Simon is survived by Joyce; his biological daughters Ellen and Nancy (from his marriage to Baim); his adopted daughter Bryn (from his marriage to Lander); three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.