As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, iconic playwright Neil Simon—the man behind The Odd Couple, Barefoot In The Park, and Lost In Yonkers—has died. His publicist, Rick Miramontez, confirmed in a statement that Simon died this morning of complications from pneumonia at a hospital in Manhattan. Simon was 91.
Simon was born in 1927 and grew up during the Great Depression, and he’s said in interviews that his parents often fought about money when he was growing up. This led to him having an unhappy childhood, drawing him to comedy movies—so he could distract himself from the difficulties of real life—and convincing him to launch a career as a writer so he could take care of himself without depending on anyone. Simon joined the Army Air Force Reserve in the ‘40s and worked at an Army newspaper in Denver.
In the ‘50s, Simon got a job writing for TV comedy sketch series Your Show Of Shows alongside other famous writers like Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen. He later began writing theatric sketches with his brother, and after deciding that he wanted to try and break out on his own, he wrote his first solo Broadway play: 1961's Come Blow Your Own. Two years later, he wrote Barefoot In The Park, which starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. The play, which is about a newlywed couple living in a top-floor apartment in New York, was nominated for three Tony Awards (Mike Nichols won for Best Director). Simon adapted the play into a movie with Redford in 1967.
Another two years after Barefoot In The Park, Simon wrote what would go on to be his most impactful play, 1965's The Odd Couple. The original production, starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney as mismatched roommates, was adapted (again, by Simon himself) into a hit movie in 1968 with Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and there have been multiple TV adaptations over the years (most famously the 1970 version with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman and the relatively popular 2015 reboot with Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry that ran for three seasons). The play won five Tony Awards.
Later, Simon wrote plays like Chapter Two, The Gingerbread Lady, They’re Playing Our Song, Biloxi Blues, Lost In Yonkers, Laughter On The 23rd Floor (about his experience as a comedy sketch writer), and—his final theatrical production—Rose’s Dilemma in 2003. He also wrote the screenplays for nearly all of the cinematic adaptations of his work, save for Come Blow Your Horn, and he refused to watch the Odd Couple TV show for its first two years because he was frustrated at having sold the rights to Paramount.
Simon is survived by his wife, actress Elaine Joyce, as well as three daughters, three grandchildren, and one great-grandson.